Congress ‘Nyay Patra’: Banking on social justice to break new ground in 2024

The manifesto for the upcoming Lok Sabha election focusses on five “pillars of justice” and 25 guarantees under them.

Published : Apr 09, 2024 16:41 IST - 8 MINS READ

Congress party president Mallikarjun Kharge with party leader Rahul Gandhi during the release of the “Nyay Patra” for the Lok Sabha election at the party headquarters in New Delhi on April 5.

Congress party president Mallikarjun Kharge with party leader Rahul Gandhi during the release of the “Nyay Patra” for the Lok Sabha election at the party headquarters in New Delhi on April 5. | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

On April 5, Congress party president Mallikarjun Kharge and senior party leader Rahul Gandhi released the party’s “Nyay Patra” or manifesto for the seven-phased Lok Sabha election at the party’s Delhi headquarters. Spanning 48 pages, the manifesto focusses on five “pillars of justice” and 25 guarantees under them.

Speaking at a press conference after the unveiling of the Congress’s manifesto, Rahul said, “We need to understand where this strategy of the RSS, BJP, and PM Modi comes from. In the same way, Adani has a monopoly in ports, infrastructure, and defence, PM Modi too, has a monopoly in political finance by using central agencies such as ED, CBI, and Income Tax.”

Expanding on his claim, Rahul said the Centre’s electoral bonds scheme reveals how the party sourced its funds. “If you have a close look at the (electoral) bond scheme, you can see very clearly that the BJP ensured funding through extortion, threats and pressure,” Rahul claimed. He added that opposition leaders across parties, including the Congress, are joining the BJP as they want to maintain their “political finance monopoly.” Kharge stated that the leaders are severing their ties “out of fear due to their wrongdoings”.

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Since 2020, following a second consecutive defeat in the Lok Sabha election held in 2019, many prominent politicians have resigned from the Congress such as Jyotiraditya Scindia, Amarinder Singh, Jitin Prasada, Milind Deora, among others. On April 4, Gourav Vallabh, a prominent Congress spokesperson known for his expertise in finance and economy, resigned from the party citing its perceived lack of direction and failure to effectively communicate its policies and manifesto.

On the party’s manifesto, Rahul said, “This manifesto wasn’t made by the Congress. It was made by the people of this country, we merely drafted it. We prepared our manifesto our speaking to thousands of people... be it on employment or contract labour.” The Congress described what it calls an alternative vision for the country and outlined, what it said, were measures to rectify the damage inflicted on India by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decade in power.

To a question asked by a reporter on how confident was his party of a positive outcome in other states besides the South, he said, “I am not a soothsayer. Unlike many political commentators, I cannot predict the future but what I am confident of is that this is a much closer election than what the media is projecting. This is a close fight. We are going to put up a strong challenge and win these elections.”

Boost to economy

Senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram, who headed the party committee that drafted the manifesto, decried the lack of jobs and employment opportunities for the country’s population. The manifesto details its plans to boost the economy and says its goal is “full employment”. The Congress says it intends to fill “vacancies” in government jobs—it will launch an “urban unemployment program” and aim for better working conditions for people employed in the gig economy.

It includes sections on justice for women, farmers, youth, labourers, and socially and economically backward members of society. The manifesto also includes a section on “Defending the Constitution”, where the manifesto says that the country’s “democracy has been reduced to an empty shell” and its institutions have “become subservient to the executive government”.

Appealing to people to look beyond religion, language, and caste and choose wisely to install a democratic government, the party said the general election presents an opportunity to radically change the style of governance that has been in evidence over the past decade.

Personal freedoms and affirmative action

The Congress said that it does not intend to interfere with personal choices of food and dress, to love and marry, and to travel and reside in any part of India. “All laws and rules that interfere unreasonably with personal freedoms will be repealed,” it stressed. To combat fake news and paid news, the party said that it will amend the Press Council of India Act, 1978 to empower the Council to deal with this menace.

“Congress has been the most vocal and active champion of the progress of the backward and oppressed classes and castes over the last seven decades,” said Kharge, who himself is from one of India’s most backward castes. The Congress said should it be voted back to power, it would conduct a nationwide socio-economic and caste census to “strengthen the agenda for affirmative action”, guaranteeing a constitutional amendment to raise the 50 per cent cap on reservations for backward castes in government jobs and education. The party said such groups make up nearly 70 per cent of India’s 1.42 billion people but “their representation in high-ranking professions, services and businesses is disproportionately low”.

The manifesto also promised an assured income to farmers through guaranteed minimum prices, loan waivers, and immediate support for crop losses. Farmers from Punjab and Haryana have been protesting for months but have been blocked by authorities from entering New Delhi.

The party has also set the target to double the country’s GDP in the next 10 years and has also promised to replace the GST laws that exist at present with GST 2.0. The new GST regime will be based on the universally accepted principle that GST shall be a single, moderate rate (with a few exceptions) that will not burden the poor, the Congress said.

It promises to increase the central government’s contribution to pensions for senior citizens, widows, and persons with disabilities under the National Social Assistance Programme from Rs.200 to Rs.500 per month to Rs.1,000 per month. It also promised to fill nearly 30 lakh vacancies in sanctioned posts at various levels in the Central government and said that the Rajasthan model of cashless insurance of up to Rs.25 lakh will be adopted for universal healthcare.

The manifesto mentioned the Right to Education (RTE) Act of 2009 which transformed education for children aged 6-14 years, and promised to amend the law to make education for classes I to XII in public schools compulsory and free. “The New Education Policy (NEP) announced by the BJP-NDA government has been opposed by educationists and several state governments. Education is a concurrent subject and the rights of states to formulate an education policy must be respected. Hence, we will revisit and amend the NEP in consultation with the state governments.”

The Congress is part of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) consisting of more than 20 parties. The INDIA bloc hopes to peel away votes from the ruling BJP and wrest power from Modi, who is seeking a third consecutive term. On March 31, the alliance held a rally in New Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan where leaders from the bloc gathered to protest the recent arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal—a key member of the alliance—and to demand a free and fair election. The rally was attended by tens of thousands of party workers and supporters.

Foreign policy

Looking at India’s global position, the Congress said it would repair India’s relations with Maldives and work with Myanmar to protect the political and human rights of the people there. It would also engage with Pakistan on its willingness and ability to end cross-border terrorism if it is voted to power. “Congress will significantly increase the size of the Indian Foreign Service, open more missions abroad, leverage our economic strengths, and acquire a position of leadership through the country’s values and mutually beneficial economic relationships,” the manifesto added.

In the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress was decimated by the BJP and reduced to holding just a few dozen seats in the Lower House of Parliament. Since then, Modi and the BJP have campaigned on a record of delivering strong economic growth. They have also followed through on other key promises like revoking Article 370 of the Constitution—thereby stripping the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomy and Statehood—and building the Ram mandir in Ayodhya.

Also Read | ‘The BJP has not learnt its lesson’: Priyank Kharge

Apart from India’s high unemployment rate, the Congress party has honed in on inflation, crony capitalism and the widening gap between the nation’s rich and poor. “Look at the manifesto minutely and you will see a grand future for India in it,” said Kharge at the press conference.

‘Bundle of lies’: BJP

The BJP dubbed the Congress’ manifesto a “bundle of lies” and alleged that the grand old party which ruled the country for several decades did not fulfil any of the promises made in its earlier manifestos for the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.

BJP national spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi said that the Congress has come up with such a poll manifesto to create confusion among the voters. “Congress manifesto is a bundle of lies. It has been prepared to create confusion among the voters,” he said at a press conference at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi. Trivedi said that the Congress, which ruled the country for several decades, is talking about “nyay” (justice) today but its governments did not do justice when in power.

(with inputs from ANI, Bloomberg, PTI, and Reuters)

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