Five years in power have completed the transition of the BJP from a party with a difference, to a party of status quo. The result is a lacklustre 2019 election manifesto, that is bereft of even one big idea to fire the imagination of voters, particularly the youth, which has been a target group for Narendra Modi from his days as Gujarat chief minister.
If the Congress added bounce to its campaign with the eyeball grabbing NYAY or the promise of a minimum annual income of Rs 72,000 for those below poverty line, the BJP seemed to have little new to offer.
Just more of the same, going by its uninspiring poll slogan: Phir Ek Baar, Modi Sarkar (Modi once more).
BJP’s Past Promises...Unfulfilled
It is always more difficult to pitch an incumbent government, especially if its record of delivery has been patchy. Consider some of the catchy promises of 2014:
- Job creation. Modi had pledged 10 crore new jobs in five years. Exactly the opposite has happened, the culprit being demonetisation. The suppression of employment data merely reinforces the widespread belief that this has been the biggest failure.
- Return of black money. To be sure, one of the first things the government did was to set up a task force to suggest ways and means of getting it back. But very little has been said since. Nor has the country seen the colour of the vast sums of money supposed to have been salted abroad. Modi had estimated it to be enough to put Rs 15 lakhs in everyone’s bank account.
- Creation of 100 smart cities. Some have been identified, but not much else has happened on this front.
- High-speed rail network to link the metros. Where are they?
- Cleansing the Ganges. The deadline has been extended to 2024 even as the coliform content of the water is believed to be at its highest level ever.
BJP ‘Sankalp Patra’ 2019: Old Wine, New Bottle
But enough talk of past promises. Let’s look at what the BJP is offering in 2019. The worthies who released the manifesto talked of 75 pledges for India’s 75th birth anniversary in 2022. A closer look at the 50-page document reveals a mélange of promises, much of which is old wine in new bottles.
The same Ram Mandir that has figured in all BJP manifestos since 1989. The same vow to abrogate Article 370. The same promise to enforce a uniform civil code. It’s surprising that the party has not tired of repeating promises it perhaps can never keep.
Never mind, its leaders said. Amit Shah claimed that history will record the last five years of the Modi government as a “golden era”, while Arun Jaitley reassured the nation that the manifesto was not prepared by the “tukde tukde gang”.
The vision Modi offered was loftier. He spoke of India@100. By 2047, he declared, India would be a ‘developed’ country. PM Modi said he would spend the next five years in government laying the foundation for this. So, rest assured, he seemed to suggest. Achche din are on the way, as promised in 2014.
National Security, the Centrepiece of BJP’s 2019 Manifesto
The 2019 polls were billed as an election of competing manifestos. Certainly, never before has a poll document been the subject of so much conversation.
To add heft to the preparation process, all parties boasted of going to the people for suggestions on what they want. They invited feedback from millions of supporters and citizens through digital platforms.
This time, it was going to be a people’s manifesto, not a party manifesto drafted by talking heads sitting in air-conditioned rooms. Rajnath Singh, who headed the manifesto committee, claimed that the BJP had the ‘widest consultations’ of all parties. He said six crore people were involved in the exercise.
Yet, despite spreading its net far and wide, the BJP seems to have fallen back on its tried and tested recipe of national security. The issue figures prominently this time, in sharp contrast to the last election.
In fact, if the 2014 campaign was marked by innovation and creativity, it was probably because the BJP stepped out of its usual narrow paradigm to make the economy its main focus. It called for new ideas and modern thinking.
Five years later, it’s back to business as usual with national security forming the bedrock of its poll narrative. The manifesto reflects the shift in emphasis with the phrase figuring 44 times in the document. This, together with development, is the BJP’s calling card for 2019.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)