Congress Manifesto Focuses on Jobs, Agriculture, Education and Healthcare

Among other promises, the party has said it would scrap the sedition law and review the AFSPA to 'balance the requirements of security and protection of human rights'.

New Delhi: On Tuesday, the Congress released its manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections due to begin in a little over a week. Building on the promise of minimum guaranteed income, it continues to focus on the underprivileged and underserved sections.

The party has promised that if voted to power, it will present a separate ‘Kisan budget’ with the aim of ensuring ‘priority to the issues affecting the agriculture sector’. The manifesto does not detail the shape and form that this budget will take.

The manifesto elaborates on the NYAY, its minimum income guarantee promise, will be implemented in phases and the spending will not exceed 2% of the GDP. It promises a cash transfer that will guarantee each family a minimum income of Rs 72,000 every year.

The scheme will be implemented as a ‘joint scheme’ of the states and Centre. An independent panel of ‘eminent economists, social scientists and statisticians’ will be constituted to oversee the design and implementation of the scheme.

The party has also promised a new version of its 2005 Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) – MNREGA 3.0. The new version of the scheme will provide 150 days of guaranteed employment instead of the 100 currently provided for. It will also focus on creating assets to address issues of water security and soil quality.

On employment, which has touched a 45 year high of 6.1%, the Congress said that “it will give the highest priority to protecting existing jobs and creating new jobs.” The more than 22 lakh positions in different government department that are vacant will be filled by March 2020, the manifesto promises.

Promises to farmers and agriculture sector

Building on its promise of waiving off farm loans, the Congress has promised ‘freedom from indebtedness’. The manifesto promises that criminal proceedings will not be allowed against farmers who default on their loans. “We see that the rich and industrialists get away with bank loan defaults, but the farmers go to jail,” Rahul Gandhi said.

Interestingly, in the Congress-ruled Punjab, several farmers have been arrested after defaulting on loans despite the party having promised loan waivers.

The manifesto promises that it will remove the ‘distortions’ that have crept into the Land Acquistion, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act and the Forest Rights Act to ensure that their original purposes are restored.

On broader economic policy, the Congress has promised that it will keep fiscal deficit under 3% of GDP. It also said that it will ‘respect’ the autonomy of the RBI in monetary matters. The party will rework GST to make it a ‘single, moderate tax’. “We will remove the Gabbar Singh Tax and make it into GST that should have been,” said Rahul Gandhi at the manifesto launch.

Like stated earlier, the manifesto promises that it will get rid of the NITI Aayog ‘which has proved to be a noisy and incompetent intermeddler.’ A leaner planning commission with renowned economists will be brought back.

The party wants to double spending on education from 3% of GDP to 6% and healthcare from 1.5% to 3% by 2023-24. It has also promise a Right to Health Care Act, which promises guaranteed healthcare to every citizen.

Influence of money in politics

Arguing that the ‘Election Commision’s inability to prevent the use of black money in election campaigns and the use of inducements to influence voter’ is a challenge to free and fair elections, the party has promised that it will scrap the electoral bond scheme introduced by the BJP. It said the scheme favours the ruling party. Instead, a national election fund will be set up, to which people can contribute. Funds will be allocated to recognised political parties when elections are due.

The Congress’s manifesto has promised that it will increase defence spending to ensure that the requirements of the armed forces are met. The party will also establish a National Counter Terrorism Centre for intelligence, analysis and quick response.

Also Read: Congress’s Proposed NYAY Scheme Is an Ambitious Step in the Right Direction

The manifesto identified terrorism, infiltration of militants, Maoism or Naxalism and caste or communal violence as the most serious threats to internal security and outlined how it plans to deal with them.

On foreign policy, the Congress alleged that ‘foreign policy under the BJP has been reduced to the whim of one man.’ It has promised to establish a national council of foreign policy consisting of members of the cabinet committee on security, scholars, domain experts and diplomats. The council will advise the government on foreign policy.

Tackling terrorism; Northeast and J&K

The manifesto stresses that the Congress is ‘implacably opposed to terrorism’ and will work with other countries to eliminate terrorist groups, terrorist acts and cross border terrorism. It will take ‘determined steps to persuade other countries to compel Pakistan to verifiably end its support to the terrorist groups that it shelters,’ the manifesto promises.

Dedicating separate sections to the northeast and Jammu and Kashmir, the party said that it will restore special status to the northeastern states and promised an industrial policy. The manifesto stresses ‘that dialogue is the only way to understand the aspirations of the people of the three regions of Jammu & Kashmir and find an honourable solution to their issues.’

It will adopt a two-pronged approach – firmness on the borders and fairness in dealing with the demands of the people. It has also promised that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act will be reviewed to balance the requirements of security and protection of human rights.

Scrapping sedition and tweaking defamation

On law and order, the party has promised that the draconian sedition law will be scrapped and the defamation law will be tweaked to make it a civil offence. It has also insisted that it will initiate police reforms and create a ‘model police act’.

Mindful of the water crisis that the country faces, the manifesto promises that the Congress will ensure universal access to potable drinking water. It has promised that it will double allocated for cleaning rivers and rework the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan.

The party has promised ‘an action agenda that will place India at the forefront of the battle against global warming and for the protection of the environment’. Recognising that air pollution is a “national public health emergency”, the Congress has said that it will strengthen the National Clean Air Programme. The manifesto also includes a chapter on climate resilience and disaster management.