Election manifestos are prepared; very few read them and even fewer take them seriously. Even their authors know that the promises made in the manifestos are not expected to be kept. Manifestos are pieces of election rhetoric. Their significance lies as indicators of what political parties are thinking. It is because of this that the Congress election manifesto carries some interest. The manifesto, not without valid reasons, is being seen as carrying the seal of Rahul Gandhi who is spearheading the Congress election campaign. In this sense, this is Mr Gandhi’s debut election. His campaign and his programme are not encumbered by the vision of the Congress president or of the prime minister. If there are remnants of their visions then it is because Mr Gandhi shares those aspects of their programmes and ideologies. One additional point of interest is the fact that very little is actually known about Mr Gandhi’s views on many critical problems facing India. The Congress manifesto is thus a revealing document about Mr Gandhi and his agenda for the refashioning of India.
The Congress manifesto turns out to be a disappointing document. This is not because it lacks substance; all election manifestos are weak on actual content. The manifesto is disappointing because it is pious and says nothing that is new or unexpected. It is difficult to fathom from the manifesto what new energy and direction Mr Gandhi is bringing to his party. There is an expected emphasis on welfare schemes for the underprivileged — this is something that Mr Gandhi has inherited from his mother — and argues that the resources for these schemes will become available from the goods and services tax. There is some dissembling in this since the implementation of the GST was a part of the incumbent government’s agenda but nothing happened. How will it happen this time around? The manifesto also does not explain how it intends to ensure a 10 per cent growth rate in the manufacturing sector when between April 2013 and January 2014, it saw a mere 0.8 per cent growth. It would appear that even as a populist document, the manifesto is a trifle out of touch with reality. What seems obvious is that Mr Gandhi has very few ideas to offer. His approach and his rhetoric are the same as his mother’s. This, given the cruel reality of anti-incumbency and the trust deficit facing the Congress, will not take Mr Gandhi very far.