They claim different ideologies, but when it comes to making tall election promises and taking voters for a ride, all bar a few political parties appear to be on the same platform at the same time.
All the national parties, currently engaged in drafting their manifestos to woo the golden goose that is the electorate ahead of the general elections, have opposed the Election Commission’s (EC) decision to prevent them from including “imaginary” and “non-implementable” promises in their poll documents. The only exceptions are curiously the CPI(M) and Lalu Prasad’s RJD.
In the third week of February, the EC issued a guideline that requires the manifestos of political parties to “reflect rationale for the promises and the way and means to meet their financial requirements.” It stresses that “trust of voters should be sought only on those promises which are possible to be fulfilled.”
Even before the guideline was notified, among those who cared to respond to the poll panel’s initial proposal, the BJP “absolutely rejected” it in writing stating that every political party had the right to put forth its vision in its manifesto on what kind of nation it wanted. It argued that it was up to the public to decide which political party could run the nation honestly and suggested that the EC should instead take effective steps to curb the abuse of money power.
Reacting on a similar note, the ruling Congress also rejected the proposal saying that it may not be plausible to maintain accounts of each and every penny involved in the promises made in the manifesto. However, it agreed that the promises in the manifesto must be realistic in scope.
The three parties agreeing to the EC proposal were CPI(M), RJD and Sikkim Democratic Party (SDP). While the first were in complete agreement with the poll panel, the SDP, the only regional party which bothered to respond, asked the commission to explain how it planned to implement the proposal.
The rest of the political parties who contest elections did not even bother to reply though the EC had sought responses from a total of 57—six national and 51 regional parties. Interestingly, even the “holier than thou” AAP chose to ignore the EC’s call.
“We expected a better response from the political parties as it was meant to streamline the election process. Even those parties which vouch for transparency did not respond to our call,” a senior official with the commission who is in charge of implementation of the proposal told The Sunday Standard.
Explaining how it planned to implement the proposal, the poll panel official said it will take up the matter if some observer points out violations with regard to the manifesto. “The EC will not be able to look into each and every manifesto. But it has the power to cancel the recognition of the political parties and we hope that will act as a good enough deterrent,” he said.
The EC had taken up the case of including manifestos in the Election Code following a Supreme Court order in July last year. Observing that “freebies shake the root of free and fair elections to a large degree”, the court had directed the EC to frame guidelines for the same in consultation with all recognised parties.
“Although the law is obvious that promises made in an election manifesto cannot be construed as a ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, the reality is that distribution of freebies of any kind undoubtedly influences all people and it affects the level-playing field,” the Supreme Court had said.
Chief Minister Raman Singh offered all first year students tablets and students studying in medical, engineering and other colleges laptops. For the poor, Singh announced food grains at cheaper rates and also rice at a nominal price of `1 for 4.2 million families.
CM candidate Vasundhara Raje promised 5 per cent quota for Gujjars, jobs for youth, development of educational infrastructure for minorities and rehabilitation of Pakistani Hindus among several other things. The manifesto also promised farm loans on 1 per cent interest rate and introduction of Agriculture Security Act.