The 30 most important thoughts in the Congress 2014 manifesto

Last Updated: Tue, Apr 08, 2014 04:41 hrs

Manifestos are the fine print of political parties. It’s where the devil and god reside. All chaos and harmony rests in them. Although they are ignored for the better part, like all statements of intent, it helps to pay attention.

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The Congress 2014 manifesto is the first to seek inputs from the public since the party began to govern in 1947. It is the first Congress manifesto directed and produced by Rahul Gandhi. Here then are the 30 most important ideas in the manifesto. They are loaded with implications.

1. A Special Envoy would pursue black money.

This ensures permanence to the efforts to bring back dirty money. But it doesn’t mean that the government will tell us who the guilty are.

2. Focus would shift from universal literacy to quality education.

Sam Pitroda thinks India doesn’t need teachers and that Google and other online tools are enough. This is an extension of that. Look for increased privatization of higher education and entry of foreign players.

3. There is no room for aversion to foreign investment.

This means all forms of foreign investment will be wooed. This raises questions of Chinese investment. It also means the government will not seek tax from past infringements as it did with Vodafone.

4. All taxes, central or state, on export products be waived or rebated.

Big step to boost export manufacture. Should make many people happy.

5. Minimum tariff protection to enable manufacture of goods in India and reduce import.

The US, EU and China could protest but then this is tit-for-tat. Ought to help motivate the manufacturers and bring some pride back to ‘Made in India.’

6. Subsidies only to the absolutely deserving.

Laudable in principle but will need expert and totally honest weeding out. Can create a parallel economy if not done perfectly.

7. Sensible User Charges for people willing to pay for uninterrupted power and better train services.

This is a sort of creamy layer tax that creates classes where they should be none. Uninterrupted electricity and better quality train services should be rights, not privileges.

8. States must willingly bear costs of flagship programmes so the centre can spend more on railways, defence, telecom and highways.

Yes. Too many states in India are political creations that become begging bowls. This should make states more responsible although many fights are likely over this.

9. A Jobs Agenda to create 10 crore new jobs.

No clarity on how this would be done. Who pays for the training and salary? Where will the jobs come from?

10. Right to health for all based on public provision and social insurance.

It is true that a nation whose people are unfit can go nowhere. But the health industry is among the most corrupt and decrepit. Who improves the infrastructure? Who pays for the improvement and clean-up, which is expensive?

11. Clutch of socioeconomic rights for the poor.

This raises a host of questions. How do you implement right to dignity and right to entrepreneurship, for instance? Who pays for the right to homesteads? Still, this is a big promise.

12. One stop crisis centres for victims of rape and domestic violence.

Absolute necessity. Work has begun on this but it needs to move to top gear. This has huge social, administrative and economic ramifications.

13. A fourth of all police officers, and sub-inspectors and constables at all police stations, to be women.

This could change many things although the policewomen appointed would need to be sensitized. Often, women in the police mirror the instincts and behaviour of men colleagues. But, if done well, this could alter many things.

14. Free sanitary napkins through women self-help groups.

Tricky. This is noble in thought but difficult to implement. Many state governments have had trouble because of resistance from families. Governments need to take on the role of mothers here, which becomes messy.

15. National commissions for students, youth and ex-servicemen.

Could work if they function like the commissions for women and human rights. Any involvement of the state beyond paying for them could be counterproductive. These commissions would need a transparent and permanent appointment process.

16. A National Sports Education University to tap and train talent in the 8 to15 age group.

Huge. India desperately needs professionals to get cracking on sport. But any presence of politicians could be toxic and would generate hatred.

17. Special army and railways recruitment drive for northeast and Jammu and Kashmir.

Will help if the scale is big enough and professional.

18. Nationwide assessment of drug abuse.

Our ignorance of facts here is tragic and therefore even this minor initiative is a good start. India is decades behind in addiction treatment but hopefully we’ll at least know how bad it is.

19. Full modernisation and digitisation of land records.

It is a much-needed initiative that could transform real estate in at least one area.

20. New Ministry of Fisheries to be set up.

Not sure what this means. A new ministry implies heavy expenses. It is true, though, that India is a small and rudimentary player in fisheries which is mega billion business elsewhere.

21. Mayors and municipal chairpersons to have powers of CEO and longer tenures.

If we have honest and capable people, this could help turn our cities around. Much more is needed on the urban front but this is difficult to argue against.

22. Industry and government to chip in to spend 2% of GDP on science and tech R&D.

Yes. India can never be a serious global player unless it has the best minds in science, medicine and space. This would however mean scrutiny of corporate ethics. Private money comes with huge self-interest.

23. A law to set deadlines for government services and redress of grievances.

Absolutely. Can be transformative.

24. A law to criminalise bribes offered by foreign officials and organisations.

Indeed. This would bring us at par with western societies that already have this in place.

25. A law to expand the definition of a bribe and add private sector to anti-corruption Act.

Yes. The private sector usually manipulates ethics. Big money needs to be looked at minutely.

26. A law to ensure open and transparent bidding and procurement.

Coalgate happened because this was not in place.

27. Expand state funding of elections.

This is extremely debatable. Why should tax payers’ money fund political parties? They are not open to checks and balances and it is impossible to hold politicians to integrity. They might never agree to a level playing field even if the exchequer funds elections.

28. Law to decriminalise homosexuality.

Long overdue.

29. Judiciary to reflect diversity of gender, caste, religion and region.

Extremely risky proposition. This essentially means quotas in the judiciary, which could undermine the entire edifice. A nudge to have more women judges may be good enough. Reserving positions could take India back.

30. Will seek permanent membership of UN Security Council.Debatable.

The UN itself is largely ineffective. Perhaps India may be better served if it works for a new global forum in place of the UN. We could be at the high table in a new dispensation instead of fighting to be accepted in an ancient hierarchy.

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Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi.

Vijay blogs here and may be contacted at

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