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Season for manifestos

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Season For Manifestos. This is the season for manifestos. The Congress and the BJP have already issued their manifestos for the four Hindi-speaking...

By tradition, manifestos in the Indian context have no more than symbolic value since our elections are fought on ‘hawa’. Conventionally speaking, a manifesto is a charter of promises and action plans to woo the voters. But in reality, these documents have become a catalogue of grand gestures and what we cannot expect to be delivered. If you visit a party office a few days after election, you will find it hard to get a copy of the manifesto. Well, that has been my experience with the mainline parties. The Communists are the only exception since they are more organised with the written word.

This is the season for manifestos. The Congress and the BJP have already issued their manifestos for the four Hindi-speaking States which are electing their assemblies. Both parties are working overtime to come up with an attractive package offer for the Lok Sabha elections due in another four-five months.

Between the two, the Congress is placed at a disadvantage since it has been the ruling party for two terms, and is, therefore, cannot hope to get away with an appealing tag line alone. In fact, according to party insiders, today the problem before the Congress is to find a catchy slogan like it did in 2008 with “Congress Ki Haath - Aam Aadmi Ke Saath”. Narendra Modi and co has made the Congress task difficult by going to the town with their war cry that the Congress hand is soaked in blood.

A new challenger to the Congress and the BJP in that order in Delhi - a city of middle class people and wholesale dealers - is the Aam Admi Party (AAP). Floated by Arvind Kejriwal, a former income tax officer with firm middle class moorings, it is dubbed as Congress–B team by the BJP and as the BJP-B team by the Congress. Its poll symbol is broom and it is Kejriwal’s promise that his broom will clean the system. He has come up with a manifesto for each of the 60 constituencies in the City-State.

By tradition, manifestos in the Indian context have no more than symbolic value since our elections are fought on ‘hawa’. Conventionally speaking, a manifesto is a charter of promises and action plans to woo the voters. But in reality, these documents have become a catalogue of grand gestures and what we cannot expect to be delivered. If you visit a party office a few days after election, you will find it hard to get a copy of the manifesto. Well, that has been my experience with the mainline parties. The Communists are the only exception since they are more organised with the written word.

Expectedly, Kejriwal is entering the fray with a promise to deal with corruption through Jan Lok Pal though he is silent on specifics. Like the Congress and the BJP, he is also promising statehood to Delhi. That the capital of India needs a better city government is an acknowledged requirement. At present multiplicity of agencies is its headache. The two-tier elected local government with four municipal corporations and a state assembly is no more than a paper tiger. The Chief Minister has no real power; the Union Home Ministry is the master for all, the police including. In turn, the Chief Minister does not share whatever power that is available with the four Mayors. The Union Ministry of Urban Development owns the lands and the city government can do precious little in this matter either.

Shiela Dixit has survived three terms because she had no worthwhile opposition within and outside. She enjoys the backing of Sonia Gandhi, the Congress supremo, who had used her as one of her proxies, when the going became tough in the past. In a sense, the CM for Delhi is a myth. It was exposed during the Commonwealth Games and again when the city had erupted as one person after “Nirbhay” became a victim to the lust of a bus driver, conductor and helper on a winter night last December.

The short point in the context of manifestos is that both the Congress and the BJP are fully aware of the limitations of the law and the reasons for these limitations on the elected Delhi set-up. The BJP is the original champion of full state-hood for Delhi. Madan Lal Khurana with his close ties with the Punjabi population that had migrated to Delhi after the Partition was deemed as the BJP Chief Minister in-waiting long before he had his first brush with the city’s power structure.

Yet, during its short stint on the Raisina Hills, the BJP did precious little to make Delhi a ‘normal’ state. On its part, the Congress has contended itself by creating a National Capital Territory of Delhi, which is neither here nor there. The power of Delhi Chief Minister begins at the Red Fort and ends at the Kutub Minar though several pockets of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan, like Gurgaon, which has become the defacto IT capital of India, for instance, are treated as a part of NCT.

The Congress is seeking a fourth term on the grounds of stability. But does the traditional concept of political stability for good governance matter in Delhi when the CM is little more than a glorified City Mayor? This is what makes the Congress manifesto that promises to build on the 15-year-long development record of Shiela Dixit a good night time read. It repackages the old schemes as new and hopes for the best with the outgoing Chief Minister pitching for a single unified command.

“If there was a single command, the pace of growth witnessed over 15 years could have doubled,” Shiela Dixit says. In essence, her demand is to do away with the BJP –ruled municipal bodies at a time the Congress is saying that by creating elected panchayats and municipalities it has realised Rajiv Gandhi’s dream of decentralization of power.

Yes, Shiela Dixit cannot be denied credit for innovations like Bhagidari to involve people in governance through resident welfare associations. If elected again, she will implement Bhagidari –II to step up interface with the government. This programme is a modified version of BJP’s experiment with resident ward committees, and had a limited effect since it largely focused on group housing societies.

Now, Kejriwal is promising to set up “Mohalla Committees” in each colony as the instrument of infrastructure development in the area, and to provide citizen-centric services like disbursement of birth and death certificates. A great idea it is to accommodate the AAP cadres since Delhi is divided into 272 municipal wards with each covering 10-15 colonies!

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