NEW DELHI: A strong focus on national security, an ambitious expansion of income support to all farmers, pension for small and marginal farmers and traders, Rs 10 lakh accident insurance for traders under GST and a promise of lower taxes and Rs 100 lakh crore investment in infrastructure are highlights of the BJP manifesto released on Monday.
The ideological contrast to the Congress manifesto was sought to be established through formulations calling for revocation of Article 35A and a reiteration of BJP’s long-standing demand for scrapping Article 370 along with a promise to give a free hand to security forces to respond to terrorism. As in 2014, BJP called for all efforts within the constitutional framework to facilitate a Ram mandir in Ayodhya.
The party also expressed its solidarity with those opposing implementation of the Supreme Court order allowing the entry of women of menstrual age in Kerala’s Sabarimala shrine, while promising to secure constitutional protection on issues related to faith and belief. The manifesto is marked by an unabashed invocation of “cultural heritage”, with the party emphasising that it sees cultural values as “essential ingredients of our future”, rather than “hurdles to progress”.
The promised expansion to bring all farmers, big and small, under the Rs 6,000 a year income support scheme will mean addition of over 2 crore beneficiaries, senior government sources said. This will take the number of potential beneficiaries to around 15 crore from the current 12.3 crore, though share croppers are not covered under the scheme.
The targeted outreach to specific constituencies like small traders, farmers, artisans and middle class seems to add up to a considered response to the populist promise of Rs 72,000 a year income support in the Congress manifesto. Rather than opting for a sweeping counter offer, BJP has broken down its promises into sectional pledges that seek to consolidate support in certain key voter groups, the calculation being that targeting different sops at specific constituencies distinguished by commonality of interests can fetch better returns than lobbing promises at an amorphous and vast category like “poor”.
The launch saw BJP leaders asserting that the party was headed for a win in May.
The party has promised to spend Rs 100 lakh crore on upgrade of infrastructure by 2024 — an ambitious target which is expected to play well with the middle classes desirous of seeing world class roads and highways. In fact, the party, whose leaders made many references to “aspirational classes” at the launch event, also declared its intent to turn the country into a $5-trillion economy by 2025 and $10 trillion by 2032.
However, unlike in 2004 when it allowed itself to be carried away by the applause of India Inc, the party has not lost sight of rural India, home to a huge chunk of voting classes. Thus, a Rs 25 lakh crore investment has been promised to improve farm productivity. It will be focused on warehouses and interest free credit cards up to Rs 1 lakh for farmers who repay the principal promptly.
Having criticised the Congress manifesto’s features like a promise to amend AFSPA as a weakening of national security, BJP projected its ‘Sankalp Patra’ as the antithesis of “tukde-tukde” or separatist thought, invoking the surgical strikes of 2017 and the air strikes on Balakot in February as evidence of its resolve to be guided by national security interest alone.
The thrust on national security has been combined with the promise of a significant expansion of the social security net in Modi sarkar 2.0. Housing for all by 2022, piped water supply to each household by 2024, Swacch Bharat Phase-II with solid waste management in every village, more resources for Ayushman Bharat and financial assistance and skill training for retiring defence personnel are other highlights.
The pledge to invest Rs 100 lakh crore in infrastructure is seen to be based on support from government, public sector and other assistance by way of subsidies and interest breaks. The party said the investments will increase jobs — an issue on which it has been attacked. It also said GST had led to overall lowering of tax rates and higher revenues and will be made simpler.
PM Narendra Modi launched the manifesto with the slogan of “one mission, one direction” as he set out three mantras of rashtravaad (nationalism), antyodaya (integral humanism) and sushaasan (good governance).
BJP said it will work towards reducing all agricultural imports and institute a predictable export and import policy with a built-in mechanism for encouraging exports and discouraging imports.
Also, loans at cheaper rates will be offered to farmers on the basis of storage receipt of agri produce. The party has promised to promote chemical-free organic farming in an additional 20 lakh hectares of hilly, tribal and rain-fed areas and launch a dedicated e-commerce portal to boost sales.
Also, gaushalas will be linked to promotion of organic farming and organic eco-tourism will be promoted. Bringing one crore hectares of agricultural land under micro-irrigation, creation of 10,000 new Farmer Producer Organisations by 2022 and a mechanism of direct marketing of vegetables, fruits, dairy and fishery products are in the BJP manifesto.
“Continuing our work, we will legislate a bill to prohibit and eliminate practices such as triple talaq and nikah halala,” the party said.