Tuesday, April 08, 2014

BJP manifesto Joshi drones the details, Modi states personal credo Insiders say NDA programme different from that of party

New Delhi: The launch of the much-delayed BJP manifesto was a business-like affair early Monday morning because the top brass – party president Rajnath Singh, PM candidate Narendra Modi and leaders Sushma Swaraj, L.K.Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi – had to leave by 11 am to address election rallies during the day.

After Joshi's long-winded presentation, Singh, Swaraj, Arun Jailtley's video message was shown as he was in Amritsar filing his nomination, Modi and Advani spoke briefly, commended the manifesto, praised the work done by Joshi on the manifesto. There was however a distinct feeling despite declarations from Singh and Modi that they take the manifesto seriously that their minds are preoccupied by the campaign nitty-gritty. Singh had however said that the promises made in the manifesto will be implemented word-to-word, Modi talked of “pratibaddhata” (commitment) towards what has been said in the manifesto.

It was the personal confession of Modi that stood out. Speaking in a voice turned-hoarse by countrywide, months-long campaign speeches he promised that he would not do anything for himself, that he would not do anything with an ill-motive (bad-iraada was the word he used) and that he would work hard and unsparingly at the assigned job of being prime minister if he is elected. Then he harped on his usual themesong of good governance and development.

The question is how much Modi influenced the preparation of the manifesto. As the PM candidate, he would have wanted his ideas to be incorporated the party programme but it is not clear how much time he spent on working out the details. There is the view that it was Modi's team based in Gandhinagar that fleshed out the details, and this could be seen in the Modi idea of high speed rail network. It says: “We will launch Diamond Quadrilateral project - of High Speed Train network (bullet train) .” In ModiMantra on bjp.org it says: “Quadrilateral of Bullet trains will fundamentally alter the way Indians are connected. Laying of new rail lines will spur industrial growth, create new employment, boost rural economy and enhance productivity.” But the rest of the manifesto seems to be a document prepared by the party bureaucracy, which does not show any trace of imagination in its style of presentation and visual design.

The cover page of the manifesto revealed the collective leadership stucture of the BJP in the run-up to the parliamentary polls. There was a vertical row of photographs on the left top with Vajpayee coming first followed by Advani, Singh and Joshi. At the bottom centre, Modi is at the centre flanked by Swaraj, Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh and Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar on the right, and on the left by Jaitley, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia.

Apart from a few interesting and odd things, the maifesto read like a mechanical litany of promises with regard to all sectors and all section, from environment to education, from agriculture to cultural heritage. It is in the cultural heritage section that the contentious issue of Ram temple in Ayodhya was mentioned along with Ram Sethu and Ganga on page 41 of the 42-page manifesto, along with the reiteration of the party's commitment to implement the uniform civil code mentioned in the Directive Principles of the Constitution. And on the controversial Article 370 which guarantees special status to Jammu and Kashmir, the mainfesto says, “ BJP reiterates its stand on the Article 370, and will discuss this with all stakeholders and remains committed to the abrogation of this article.”

The odd and interesting things included the BJP open to the idea of foreign direct investment (FDI) in all the sectors excepting multi-brand retail. More importantly, the manifesto referred to strenghtening of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), of making room for private sector in defence production and allowing FDI in the sector.

The section on foreign policy restated Vajpayee's vision of a cooperative south Asia and there was no mention of either Pakistan ot China in it.

After the relatively short press briefing, where Joshi answered few question from the reporters, the leaders left. Joshi stayed back to speak with the journalists over high tea.

A senior BJP functionary speaking on condition of anonymity admitted that the manifesto came too late and that it should have been ready a month ago. He said that the manifesto committee was poring over nearly 100,000 suggestions that came from all over including NRIs from the U.S. There was a sense that the manifesto should have been prepared from party inputs and not depend on inputs from members of the public. The leader has also made it clear that the manifesto will not be the government's agenda, and that it merely provides direction.

It will be necessary for the BJP to work out a common programme as new members join the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which will utimately form the government. The party's manifesto will not be NDA's manifesto or governmental agenda. At the moment, the NDA has 11 allies, including the older partners, Shiv Sena and Akali Dal, now joined by Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) in Bihar, Apna Dal (AD) in Uttar Pradesh, Republican Party of India (Athawale) in Maharashtra, Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), Indhiya Jananayaka Katchi (IJK), KOngunadu Munnetra Kazhagam (KMK) in Tamil Nadu, and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Seemandhra and Telangana. .

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