An election manifesto spells out aims, policies, values, and principles for which a political party stands for and has worked in the past years. A manifesto also gives reasons for the voters why they should consider a particular party as their choice.
In countries where the parliamentary form of government is followed, the practice of coming out with the party manifesto is common. However, in countries where the presidential form of government exists, such as the US, the term ‘manifesto’ is not used, instead, they do have ‘platforms’ to spell out the policies and programmes of the parties. In the US, the candidates for Presidency spell out their stand on various issues in the TV debates. The TV debates from the 1960s are organised where the moderator asks the candidates to spell out their stand on various domestic and foreign issues. Sometimes a manifesto itself becomes the party’s ideology for decades to follow such as Karl Marx’s ‘Communist Manifesto’ that he wrote for the Communist Party in Germany 150 years ago (1848)and that has become the guiding principle of the party even now in countries where communism is followed as a political ideology. In England, the major political parties also have a tag line in their party manifesto. In the last general elections held in 2017, the Labour Party manifesto had For the Many, Not the Few and the Conservative party manifesto had Forward Together as a tag line.
All political parties big and small, national and regional spell out their promises for the people provided they are elected to power. Usually, a group, which is well versed with the party’s history, principles, and challenges faced by the people and the party, gathers to write a manifesto. Sometimes, they take the help of academics and their own party ideologues to write it. In the last two general elections, the pattern of writing and launching the manifesto has changed. The Aam Aadmi party played a vital role in changing the nature and content of a party manifesto. This party considers politics as an interactive process and constant dialogue. Soon after AAP was dislodged in November 2014, the party launched what is known as ‘Delhi Dialogue’, a unique initiative of drawing up the party manifesto by forging a partnership between the party and the citizens of Delhi.
After holding hundreds of citizens’ meetings, organising round tables with subject experts, marshalling responses gained from thousands of feedback forms, online comments, emailed suggestions, WhatsApp messages, Tweets, and Facebook comments, AAP had drawn up a 70-point actionable plan for all sections of Delhi’s population – youth, women, traders, businesses, entrepreneurs, rural and urban villages, safai karmacharis, minorities, unauthorised and resettlement colonies, JJ Clusters, Resident Welfare Associations, housing cooperatives and group housing societies. The perspectives and aspirations of Delhi’s citizens were given a forum to discuss issues of power, water, health, education, housing, sanitation, employment, transport, social justice, women’s rights and safety, among others. The AAP changed dramatically the party Manifesto style and model. Of course, this is for the assembly election.
It was Aam Aadmi’s Arvind Kejriwal who introduced this method known as ‘Crowd Sourcing Manifesto Inputs for Elections’. This time, for the Lok Sabha election, the two major national parties, BJP and the Congress have adopted the ‘crowdsourcing method’ for the forthcoming general election to the parliament. The BJP has decided to seek suggestions under 12 special categories like good governance, women empowerment, youth and sports, inclusive growth, farmers, economy, foreign policy and infrastructure. The party has appointed 12 senior leaders to oversee the suggestions for these dozen sectors. The Congress has constituted a jumbo 22-member manifesto committee, which will look into 20 different subject groups such as the economy, agriculture etc., to name a few.
On the contrary, the regional parties are still sticking to the old mode of drafting the manifesto of the party by a group within the party with the support of some academics and civil society organisations. The parties are also visited by different interest groups of people with their demands to be included in the manifesto. These are the groups that work with children related issues, women’s issues, and local governance issues. The civil society organisations working on various issues and their networks do conduct meetings for drawing up a manifesto or a list of their demands. They present either their manifesto or their demands by meeting the leaders of the regional political parties.
Another major trend is the different sectors coming out with their election manifesto prior to the Lok Sabha election at the national level. Some of these manifestos are made public during meetings in the capital. In the run-up to the 2019 general elections, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) released a ‘Dalit Manifesto’ on December 10. The manifesto presents a set of demands under 12 categories and appeals to all the political parties to “include the concerns raised regarding Dalit issues in their manifestos’. Another manifesto titled ‘People’s Manifesto for Just, Equitable and Sustainable India’ was developed through the Vikalp Sangam network. The 50 groups who make up the network have asked all political parties to commit to the principles spelt out in the manifesto, released just ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
On March 6, women’s organisations from across India assembled at the Press Club of India to issue an appeal to political parties for providing at least 33 per cent tickets to female contestants ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in 2019. The 11-point ‘WOMANIFESTO’ highlighted women’s equal representation in Parliament, gender budgeting, increase in health, education, and safety expenditure at the national and local level.
People’s Health Manifesto released by the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA) on 25th February 2019 has demanded that the governments “increase substantially the public expenditure on health, financed primarily through general taxation, to 3.5% of GDP (this would be annually around Rs. 4,000 per capita at current rates as recommended by the National Health Policy-2017) in the short term, and 5% of GDP in the medium term, with at least 60% of the expenditure being borne by the Centre and 40% by states.”
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) with its own ‘Suggested Election Manifesto’ has said parties should view economic issues as a priority. The document targets an average growth rate of 8 per cent per annum for the next five years and has been shared with all major political parties- both national and regional.
The Alliance of Doctors for Ethical Healthcare (ADEH) in their “Ethical Doctors Manifesto” outlined specific steps to strengthen the public health system, regulate the private healthcare sector, and ensure that people receive rational and ethical healthcare. The alliance wants political parties to pledge, among other steps, to increase government spending on healthcare from 1.1 per cent to 2.5 per cent within the next four years, regulate profits on all medicines and medical devices, regulate tuition fees for 100% of seats in private medical colleges, and provide free medicines and diagnostics in all government hospitals.
Last month, a group of eminent citizens outlined reforms for India’s judiciary, media, education, healthcare, police, and social welfare system. They titled it “Manifesto for change: Reclaiming the Republic: 19 issues for elections 2019”.
If the political parties listen carefully to the various manifestos released by different sectors, they will be able to feel the pulse of the nation and voices coming from below.
— The writer is a Professor of History at Loyola college, Chennai