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BJP Election Manifesto 2024 Focuses on Narendra Modi, Not the Party

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BJP Election Manifesto 2024 Focuses on Narendra Modi, Not the Party

The opposition has dismissed the manifesto as a “jumla patra,” a document of fake promises.

BJP Election Manifesto 2024 Focuses on Narendra Modi, Not the Party

Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds up the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s election manifesto at its release in the BJP headquarters in New Delhi, India, April 14, 2024

Credit: X/K. Annamalai

Four days before voting in India’s multiphase election begins on April 19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s election manifesto.

Significantly, it has been showcased not as the BJP’s manifesto but as “Modi ki Guarantee” i.e. personal guarantees given by Narendra Modi. As The Telegraph newspaper observed, the 69-page manifesto, “sought to project Brand Modi” as the single focus of the 2024 general elections, “pushing the party [BJP] in the background.”

Jairam Ramesh, general secretary of the Congress, India’s main opposition party, described the BJP manifesto as “Modifesto.” Drawing attention to the “53 photos of the Camerajeevi” (one who is fond of getting photographed), i.e. Modi, Ramesh said that the manifesto is a “farewell memento” to Modi, who has over the past decade only  “distorted, damaged, denied, diverted, denigrated, and defamed.”

The goal of the BJP as stated in its manifesto, released by Modi at the party headquarters in New Delhi, is  “Viksit Bharat 2047” i.e. a developed India by 2047, the centenary year of India’s independence. Speaking at the manifesto release, Modi said that “the government has already started working on the 100-day action plan” and would get down to work soon after the June 4 election results. After two terms in power, Modi said that the party is confident of winning a third term.

Incidentally, while all major parties had released their manifesto well ahead of the commencement of voting, the BJP dragged its feet over releasing its roadmap for the future. Confident that the inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya would bring in the votes for a comfortable win, it seemed that the BJP saw little need to publicize a manifesto.

The overconfidence that Modi attempted to exude while delivering his speech did not match the restlessness he displayed when the Congress unveiled its manifesto in early April. The Congress had lambasted the Modi government for its inability to tackle unemployment and price rise.

No sooner did Modi say that his government was committed to strengthening the four pillars of the country — youth, women, the poor and farmers, than the INDIA bloc of opposition parties trashed the BJP manifesto as a “jumla patra” (a document of fake promises).

The BJP manifesto stated that its government had successfully achieved its declared goals in the past decade (2014-2024), including the abrogation of Article 370 which bestowed special status to Jammu and Kashmir and the enactment of the women’s reservation in Parliament legislation.

The BJP has now committed to usher in the contentious Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and a law to enable “One Nation, One Election.”

The UCC has been a pet project of the Hindu supremacist BJP for some time. While the UCC claims to bring in a common civil law for all communities to ostensibly enable “gender equality” by replacing the personal laws of different religious groups, in reality, it is aimed at targeting the minority Muslim community. Evidence of this can be seen in the UCC enacted by the BJP-ruled Uttarakhand state government.

The BJP’s plan to implement the “One Nation, One Election” norm has been strongly opposed by several opposition parties as it could “subvert parliamentary democracy and undermine federalism.” The BJP claims that simultaneous polls at the federal and state levels are in the “national interest” but the opposition sees it as a clear sign of Modi’s authoritarianism.

Significantly, voters cited unemployment and inflation as their major concerns in pre-poll surveys conducted by Lokniti-CSDS ahead of the elections. However, the BJP manifesto makes no bold promises on these issues.

Unlike the 2019 manifesto when it committed to creating 20 million jobs annually and eventually failed to deliver, the 2024 manifesto merely mentions that the government will create high-value jobs and recruit youth in government jobs.

The projection of Modi as an anti-corruption crusader helped him sweep into power in 2014. Recent disclosures on the Electoral Bond Scheme, which the Supreme Court described as “unconstitutional” and “illegal,” have severely damaged that image.

Therefore, the BJP manifesto refrains from outlining any concrete measures on combating corruption and merely says that it will “continue its fight against corruption through strict implementation of laws and use of technology.” Interestingly, even while listing its achievements over a decade, the BJP manifesto is silent on demonetization, the proverbial “masterstroke” to tackle black money.

The BJP’s strategy of luring tainted opposition leaders into its ranks and “whitewashing” their crimes once they joined the BJP, has made a mockery of its anti-corruption stance. An investigation by The Indian Express newspaper detailed how since 2014, 23 of 25 leaders, alleged by the BJP itself to be corrupt, got a reprieve when they joined the BJP. Nonetheless, the BJP continues to claim in its manifesto that it took great strides in the fight against corruption.

Claims in its manifesto raise several questions. If the BJP did indeed lift millions of people out of poverty in the past decade, why does it still need to provide “free rations for 800 million poor for the next five years”? The BJP has often slammed its rivals for wooing voters with “freebies.” Why then is the party offering voters “freebies,” including “free electricity to poor households.”

Discontent among farmers is running high. The BJP has not fulfilled its 2019 promise to double farmer income. It was forced to scrap three controversial farm laws under pressure from farmers’ protests and is now under pressure again from farmers due to its failure to implement the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of crops. On the defensive, the BJP  manifesto merely mentions “increasing MSPs from time to time” and several other initiatives including strengthening the crop insurance scheme.

As regards its foreign policy, the BJP has clearly stated that it will fuse its core Hindutva ideology with the country’s diplomatic policies and practices. It proposes to elevate the Hindu deity Ram as a central icon of Indian diplomacy. Prior to this, all earlier governments had celebrated traditional icons like Mahatma Gandhi and Buddha. The manifesto states the government will launch a “global outreach program” for documenting and promoting the legacy of Ram in all countries.

Moreover, the government promises to celebrate “Ramayana Utsav” (festival) across the globe “to commemorate the Pran Pratishtha of Ram Lalla” ie. the installation of the Ram idol at his birthplace of Ayodhya.

This is a clear statement of the BJP’s decisive move to replace secular iconography with majoritarian Hindu symbolism not just domestically but in international relations as well. In fact, it promises to take forward its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s dream of an “Akhand Bharat” (undivided India ) with Hinduism as its mainstay.

Of late, opposition leaders have been flagging the BJP’s attempts to rewrite India’s secular democratic Constitution. Speaking at an election rally in Bihar, a defensive Modi said that the “Constitution has ‘Modi ki guarantee’” that it will not be changed.

His critics are not convinced.

Ahead of elections, the Modi government has gone on an overdrive, jailing political rivals including sitting chief ministers Arvind Kejriwal and Hemant Soren, claiming to wipe out corruption. To counter such authoritarian tactics, the Congress manifesto, which is titled “Nyay Patra” (justice document) promises to restore constitutional guarantees and ensure justice to all sections.

Modi possibly finds himself embattled on several fronts for the first time in a decade. He has therefore called on voters to vote for him to head a “stable government” once again, which enjoys an “absolute majority.” He asserts that only such a government would be able to steer the country amid the current global crises and “war like situation.”

The BJP is hoping that the memory of unstable coalition governments at the center will quash anti-incumbency sentiment among voters and prompt them to vote for the saffron party despite the authoritarian excesses of the Modi government.