The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) yesterday unveiled a manifesto it said was inspired by the spirit of nationalism, in a bid to woo different segments of society just days before voters go to the polls.
Populist pledges included doubling the income of farmers by 2022, social security in the form of pensions for small farmers and traders, and tax cuts for the middle class.
The BJP also pledged full commitment to national security and a zero tolerance policy on terrorism.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking a second five-year term, with the opposition Congress and a host of regional parties putting up a strong fight.
Referring to BJP’s “big plans” in the manifesto released at the party’s headquarters in New Delhi, Mr Modi said two key pledges were housing for all by 2022 and the doubling of farmers’ incomes.
“We have big plans to take the nation forward in the next five years,” he said.
In crafting the 45-page document, he said, “nationalism is our inspiration, serving the weakest is our doctrine and good governance our mantra”.
Mr Modi is widely seen as having the edge in the elections and opinion polls have largely predicted a win for the BJP.
But the ruling party has also come under attack for failing to create enough jobs and to help farmers, a key voting bloc.
Job creation has not kept pace with the millions entering India’s workforce each year. To this end, the BJP promised to spend 100 trillion rupees (S$2 trillion) on infrastructure by 2024.
To address growing discontent in rural India where farmers labour under mounting debts and face lower prices for their crops, five-year interest-free loans will be made available to those in need, among other assistance schemes.
Some of the pledges, however, are more controversial and might invite a backlash.
The party promised to complete the National Register of Citizens implemented in Assam to weed out illegal migrants and also implement it “in a phased manner in other parts of the country”. The problem is that the register does not contain the names of millions of residents in Assam, making them illegal.
The BJP also promised to remove the special rights of the people of Kashmir which, among other things, prevent outsiders from buying property in the Muslim-majority state.
The BJP manifesto listed commitment to national security as a top pledge to underline its importance in these elections following an outbreak of hostilities with Pakistan last month over the killing of 40 Indian soldiers in Kashmir in February. India retaliated with air strikes on what it said were terror camps in Pakistan, leading to an upsurge of Indian nationalist sentiments.
The manifesto said the BJP would continue the “policy of zero tolerance against terrorism and will continue to follow our policy of giving a free hand to our security forces in combating terrorism”.
Not forgetting its core supporters, the BJP said it was committed to building a Hindu temple on the site of a mosque demolished by Hindu mobs in Ayodhya in 1992.
The opposition Congress, which was trounced by the BJP in the 2014 general election, slammed the ruling party, saying it had yet to deliver on some promises, including one to create millions of jobs.
Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel took a swipe at the BJP in his tweet: “For its 2019 manifesto, BJP has simply copy pasted its 2014 manifesto & changed all previous deadlines from 2019 to 2022, 2032, 2047, 2097… Luckily they didn’t shift any deadlines to the next century.”
Political analysts noted that it was largely a populist manifesto, with something for everyone.
“(Modi) is trying to show that farmers and rural India are his focus. But he is keeping his supporters happy at the same time,” said Dr Bhaskara Rao, director of the Centre for Media Studies.