To participate in a process is to implicitly accept certain conditions and conventions. Among the conditions and conventions of participating in elections in India are the preparation and presentation by political parties of their manifestos. These manifestos represent the parties’ statement of their goals and purposes and the means by which they intend to achieve them. It is meant to be the carefully thought-out statement of the party that voters must read, consider and compare with other manifestos before casting their ballots. Cynics denigrate manifestos as being nothing more than a collection of empty promises that political parties forget as soon as the elections are over. Notwithstanding this, there is actually no substitute for the election manifesto in the democratic and electoral process. The Bharatiya Janata Party came close to the cynic’s trap as it nearly did not release its manifesto; when it eventually did, there was hardly any time left in certain parts of India to read and reflect on what the BJP had to say about itself and its vision for India.
The acolytes of Narendra Modi would like to believe that the thrust and the content of the manifesto represent a victory of Mr Modi over the older leaders of the BJP who prefer to equate the party with Hindutva. Mr Modi prefers, or so his fans say, to make the BJP the party of economic development and good governance. This seems to be borne out by the fact that Hindutva and its agenda have been relegated to passing mentions in the new manifesto. It would not thus be unfair to assess the manifesto in terms of the “development’’ it plans for India. The manifesto contains a heavy emphasis on welfare schemes. But it does not clarify its position on subsidies although it does promise to introduce fiscal discipline. What the manifesto promises to address in a major way is the problem of India’s infrastructure. But here too, the issue of where the money for this is to come from is left in limbo. Those who expected Mr Modi to emerge as a champion of free market reforms will be left disappointed. There is a vague promise to eradicate all that is obsolete. But there is no clearly thought-out programme for reform of either the economy or the government. If Mr Modi is indeed the author or the mastermind of this manifesto then there is nothing in it that suggests that he is made from a different kind of clay than other political leaders, past or present. Mr Modi, India expects.