Manifesto Matters In India: Assessing INC’s Agenda Amidst Election Controversies – Analysis


Even as the second phase of polling for the ongoing general election in India commenced, the controversy stirred by the ruling dispensation at the Centre regarding the Indian National Congress’s (INC) poll promises in the party’s election manifesto continues, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterating his allegations. The BJP has targeted the Congress, alleging that the party vowed in its manifesto to appropriate and redistribute the wealth of Indian citizens, a claim the Congress denies. 

Prime Minister Modi asserted: “It is written in their manifesto that they will survey the wealth. Their leader had said in a speech that X-ray of wealth will be done. This means that if something is kept in a box or hidden in a wall, it will be searched through X-ray. Then they will capture all your property which is more than required and then distribute it among the people.” Earlier Modi said that their strategy involves taking away the gold possessions of our mothers and sisters, evaluating their worth, and subsequently distributing it, with priority given to individuals identified by the government of Dr. Manmohan Singh as having the foremost claim to the nation’s wealth—the Muslim community.” 

Are Modi’s allegations substantiated? What does the INC manifesto propose regarding wealth redistribution and preferential treatment for Muslims? Is there anything noteworthy beyond the principles outlined in the Constitution of India regarding a just and equal society?

Amidst mounting allegations, several prominent figures within the Congress party have unequivocally dismissed notions of any agenda to ‘seize and redistribute’ wealth should they assume power in the upcoming 2024 elections. In a parallel move, the party has officially lodged a complaint with the Election Commission, citing Prime Minister Modi’s statements on the issue.

The INC manifesto for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, indeed, outlines various positions on income inequality, India’s wealth distribution, support for economically disadvantaged individuals, and the equitable allocation of government land and resources. 

According to the INC manifesto, the gap between the wealthy and the poor and middle classes has widened significantly, dealing a severe blow to the objectives of equality, equity, and social and economic justice. The manifesto quotes a report titled “Income and Wealth Inequality in India, 1922-2023: The Rise of the Billionaire Raj,” authored by prominent economists including Thomas Piketty, which highlights that India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, exhibits greater inequality than even during the British Raj era. Currently, the top 1% of earners in India claim a larger share of the national income than ever before, reaching historical highs and ranking among the highest globally. This surge in inequality has been particularly notable between 2014 and 2023. This obviously outraged the BJP. 

The INC manifesto says individuals from the SC, ST, and OBC communities have yet to achieve parity with the rest of society and continue to lag. Despite constituting nearly 70% of India’s population, their representation in high-ranking professions, services, and businesses remains disproportionately low. The Congress Party deems such inequality and discrimination based on ancestry intolerable in any progressive modern society, emphasizing the need for equal opportunity.  To address historical inequities, the Congress Party pledges to implement the following initiatives:

Conducting a nationwide Socio-Economic and Caste Census to accurately enumerate castes and sub-castes along with their socio-economic conditions. This data will inform and strengthen the agenda for affirmative action. 

Guaranteeing the passage of a constitutional amendment to raise the current 50% cap on reservations for SC, ST, and OBC communities.

Implementing a 10% reservation in jobs and educational institutions for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), ensuring fairness and inclusivity across all castes and communities without discrimination.

The manifesto says that economic justice holds equal importance alongside political and social justice. Sound economic policies are pivotal for India, a developing nation, to progress from being a middle-income country to eventually achieving developed status. The Congress Party’s economic agenda has evolved.  In 1991, Congress initiated liberalization, transitioning the country towards an open, free, and competitive economy with regulatory oversight. This move resulted in significant wealth creation, the emergence of new businesses and entrepreneurs, a burgeoning middle class, the creation of millions of jobs, and notable advancements in education, healthcare, and exports. Now, after 33 years, the time is ripe for a reset of economic policy, says the manifesto. The Congress advocates for a Nav Sankalp Economic Policy, with job creation as its cornerstone. To generate employment opportunities, India must transform into a producing economy, manufacturing goods and providing services not only for domestic consumption but also for global markets. India has a substantial opportunity to emerge as the world’s largest producer. 

The Congress manifesto emphasizes the three core pillars of its economic policy: work, wealth, and welfare. Addressing the escalating wealth and income inequality through policy adjustments remains a key objective. The party underscores that wealth creation is a fundamental goal of any business endeavour. To facilitate this, industrial and business policies will be crafted to support the production of goods and services on a larger scale and with higher value. Productivity enhancement is equally crucial, and any legal or administrative obstacles hindering increased production or value will be eliminated. The manifesto pledges to streamline access to finances, raw materials, technology, intellectual property, and other resources, both domestically and through imports.

The welfare of all citizens is paramount, regardless of economic status. The manifesto criticizes the BJP/NDA’s policies for exacerbating economic divisions in India. Under a Congress government, prioritizing the welfare of the poor will be a fundamental commitment, with government resources directed towards uplifting the approximately 22 crore people below the poverty line over the next decade. The aim is to ensure access to education, healthcare, housing, clean water, sanitation, electricity, and employment opportunities, fostering resilience and self-reliance among those currently at the bottom of the economic ladder. The Nav Sankalp Economic Policy aspires to establish a fair, just, and equal-opportunity economy, fostering prosperity for all segments of society. The Congress envisions a new era of inclusive nation-building, echoing the transformative efforts initiated in 1991, engaging all sections of society. 

However, it is a fact that many of the issues related to income inequality and unemployment are also the result of the policy regime set in motion by the INC governments since the middle of the 1980s. 

INC Manifesto upholds Directive Principles?   

Yet, many of the promises and initiatives outlined in the manifesto align with the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) enshrined within the Constitution of India (Articles 36-51). The DPSP advocates for the promotion of societal welfare by establishing a social order where justice—social, economic, and political—pervades all national institutions. It emphasizes the minimization of income disparities and the eradication of inequalities in status, opportunities, and facilities, not only among individuals but also among diverse groups residing in different regions or engaged in various professions.

Furthermore, the DPSP emphasises key objectives such as ensuring both men and women have equal access to adequate livelihoods, distributing material resources of the community for the common good, preventing wealth concentration detrimental to society, and enforcing equal pay for equal work irrespective of gender. The State is tasked with endeavouring to provide all workers—whether in agriculture, industry, or other sectors—with employment, a living wage, and working conditions conducive to a decent standard of living, along with opportunities for leisure and cultural enrichment. Additionally, the promotion of cottage industries, whether individually or cooperatively, in rural areas is encouraged. Moreover, special attention is to be given to advancing the educational and economic interests of marginalized communities, particularly the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, safeguarding them from social injustice and exploitation.

While the promises made by the INC may not be groundbreaking, nor deemed anti-national or unconstitutional, the party’s track record has been marred by a disregard for these principles over the past three decades. This disregard was often justified under the guise of the new economic policy, with the BJP-led government further entrenching these neoliberal policies. 

However, what sets this moment apart is the INC’s renewed dedication to reinstating the welfare state, recognizing the social unrest stemming from widespread unemployment and inequality. In contrast, the BJP’s approach seems to lean towards crony capitalism, lacking a genuine commitment to addressing these pressing societal issues.

In conclusion, the INC manifesto for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections reflects only a practical approach towards addressing key issues of income inequality, wealth distribution, and social welfare in India. By aligning its promises with the Directive Principles of State Policy outlined in the Constitution, the INC demonstrates a commitment to promoting societal welfare and economic justice for all citizens. Furthermore, the manifesto’s emphasis on addressing historical inequities, uplifting marginalized communities, and fostering inclusive economic growth highlights the party’s dedication to building a fair and just society. In contrast, the BJP’s approach, characterized by neoliberal policies and crony capitalism, appears to deviate from these basic principles, potentially exacerbating social disparities. 

As India is grappling with the complexities of governance and development, the choices made in the upcoming elections will significantly impact the nation’s trajectory. It is imperative for voters to critically evaluate each party’s manifesto and assess their alignment with constitutional values and principles to make informed decisions for a more equitable and prosperous future. 

K.M. Seethi

K.M. Seethi, ICSSR Senior Fellow, is Academic Advisor to the International Centre for Polar Studies (ICPS) and Director, Inter University Centre for Social Science Research and Extension (IUCSSRE), Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala, India. He was earlier Professor of International Relations and Dean of Social Sciences, MGU.

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