For many years now political parties’ manifestos have been an exercise in preparing a ‘good document’ than identifying the real problems confronting the Indian polity. Come election time, manifesto committees formed by parties start doing the ritual of meeting various stakeholders, vested interest groups, and the general public.
These meetings are supposed to give the politicians a concrete idea of the concerns of various sections of people, be it farmers, students, women or the business community. Besides these meeting, in any case, politicians are supposed to be aware of the ground reality that people are concerned with.
However, a quick analysis of previous manifestos of the BJP and the Congress shows that political manifestos often don’t address the most critical issues facing the country.
And even when they do talk about deep-rooted problems like poverty, caste-based discrimination and the terrible state of small and landless farmers, for instance, it is done in a very perfunctory manner.
Therefore, it can be argued that political manifestos are in an inverted sense a good test of what parties actually consider to be significant issues. More often what is in the manifesto is not likely to become a poll issue. For instance, take the example of economic inequality itself. Oxfam’s latest report on inequality has ranked India at the bottom of an index containing 157 countries.
The index was based on a new database of indicators that tracked performance on social spending, tax and labour rights. Moreover, every year we are told of the shocking levels to which inequality has risen in India over the last seventy years. Last year, Oxfam had revealed that of the total wealth created in India in 2016 the richest 1 per cent in India gobbled up 73 per cent of it. This basically means that 99 per cent of people of India received only 27 per cent of the total wealth generated.
It is election season again with four states going to elections in the next four months. The General elections too are less than eight months away. But what are the issues that are hogging the rallies that have held so far in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh? Besides the usual claims to waive off farm loans, provide employment, set up industries, and giving reservation to communities, our politicians are once again shying away from even acknowledging the monumental inequality in India.
Economic inequality coupled with entrenched social inequality is one of the root causes of poverty, therefore, when politicians make claims about eradicating poverty, providing free housing and other freebies, they are only obfuscating the actual issue that needs to be solved. If they were actually serious about raising the income levels and standard of living, every third person in India wouldn’t have to live on less than Rs 140 a day.
No wonder then that India also performs terribly on its efforts to reduce inequality. India ranks 147th out of 157 countries on its commitment to reducing inequality. According to calculations done by Oxfam, if India were to adopt meaningful policies to reduce inequality by just 33 per cent ‘more than 170 million people would no longer be poor’.
But going by the prevailing priorities of political parties as seen in their rallies, it is clear that no party is in fact committed to deal with rising inequality. We have Rahul Gandhi repackaging himself and his party in a religious hue, Mamata Banerjee is announcing doles for Durga Puja, and the BJP is diverting the attention of people from issues like unemployment and jobless growth by propping up agendas like Ram Mandir, and illegal Bangladeshis.
If India is to really progress, its common people must force political parties to talk about the elephant in the room- inequality. Because, if left unaddressed, it will lead to nationwide instability and strife.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)
Valay Singh is a Delhi-based writer and photographer
Economic inequality coupled with entrenched social inequality is one of the root causes of poverty, therefore, when politicians make claims about eradicating poverty, providing free housing and other freebies, they are only obfuscating the actual issue that needs to be solved