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Manifesto image: courtesy Congress
 
A Right for Everybody; A Commission for every issue. This is the key message of the Congress Party’s manifesto for the Lok Sabha polls.
The implied message is indeed a survival kit for the Congress that once dreamt of big-leap victory in the 2014 and 2019 elections on the strength of aadhar card-enabled delivery of services.   
The nursery rhyme ‘Humpty Dumpty had a great fall…’ appears to be now reverberating at Congress offices across the Nation.  The Congress, the country’s most Machiavellian Party, is now realizing that an average Indian cherishes dignified work.  
The electorate cannot be won (or rather bought) with freebies, notwithstanding rationalization of this practice by the Supreme Court. The apex court last year observed that electoral promises fall under the domain of Directive Principles of the Constitution and do not constitute corrupt practices.  It, however, directed the Election Commission (EC) to frame guidelines on drafting of manifestos and EC recently acted accordingly. 
EC should give verdict promptly on manifesto of each major party to show the extent of non-compliance with SC-mandated guidelines.  
Except for the realization that dole-outs have lost the sheen, there is no other plausible explanation for the Congress bigwigs’ failure to orchestrate their claims on Aadhar.
The name ‘Aadhar’ figures only twice in the Manifesto. So does the term ‘direct benefit transfer’. The term ‘cash transfer’ finds no mention.  As put by the Manifesto, “The Indian National Congress will ensure that all Indian residents have a unique Aaadhar number. This will serve as a proof of identity and proof of residence. It will also enable access to services (like opening a bank account) for a vast majority of Indians.”
It adds: “The Indian National Congress is committed to using the Aapka Paisa Aapka Haath platform for all government programmes. Direct Benefit Transfer will ensure time-bound delivery of benefits at the individual’s doorstep, and remove corruption and leakages.”
Compare this subdued resolve with Eureka frenzy that gripped the Congress top brass in 2012-13.  Finance Minister P. Chidambaram had then dubbed Aadhaar-enabled cash transfers as “pure magic”. He now appears to be becoming wiser by the day. He has not only opted out from the electoral race but is also giving bytes of wisdom. The other day, for instance, he reportedly said that given a choice, people want jobs over subsidies. 
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi also appears to be on the same wavelength. Mr. Gandhi has thus refrained from reiterating what he said in December 2012. He had reportedly told Congress office-bearers that the direct cash transfer scheme was a “revolutionary step” which if  implemented properly would win the party not just the 2014 election but also the next one in 2019. 
A news report had quoted Mr. Gandhi as saying that every 10 years, the Congress comes up with a scheme that shakes up the nation, and the party is now giving a revolutionary delivery system to people in the 21st century.
Can the Congress shake the BJP now by dangling vaguely defined rights before the public and by promising several commissions to address issues faced by different groups.
To expose Congress gimmickry and falsehood on the rights, a detailed quote from the Manifesto is required.  
The Manifesto says: “We will endeavour to bring around two thirds of our population – the skilled hands that build India – into the middle class, through a package of basic rights for all workers – formal and informal, organized and unorganized, regular and contractual. Our aim will be to provide them and all low-income families with economic security and a minimum standard of living to uplift their condition. The charter of minimum socio-economic rights we will put in place includes: a. Right to Health b. Right to Pension c. Right to Homestead or Housing d. Right to Social Security e. Right to Dignity and humane working conditions f. Right to Entrepreneurship that will protect and assist all those who seek to become entrepreneurs.”
 It continues: “These new rights will supplement the other rights established under UPA-I and UPA-II - Right to Food; Right to Information; Right to Education; Right to Employment; Rights to fight corruption (Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act as well as Whistleblower Protection Act); Right to Identity (Aadhaar) and the Right to direct receipt of welfare benefits (Aapka Paisa, Aapke Haath – Direct Benefits Transfers).”
The Manifesto adds: “Together, these rights will provide an economic platform for people below the middle class to transform their lives and to transform India primarily through their own effort, not through any handouts of the government.”
The Congress affirms: “At the turn of the millennium, we brought about a ‘Regime of Rights’ marking a paradigm shift in India’s politics and development. Beginning with the Right to Information, Right to Work (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), Right to Education and the Right to Food, we have launched a radical progressive economic and social development discourse.”
The Manifesto, does not say a word about lakhs of beggars including alms-seeking kids in cities.  They do not have Voter’s identity card and aadhar card. Hence, they do not figure in the political strategy of Congress and most of the other parties.The right to free and compulsory education is not implemented in their case. The mid-day meals are a dream for children who seek alms or ‘earn’ some money at all major traffic signal crossings in National Capital Region. They earn either by doing either modest stunts or by forcibly cleaning the cars waiting for green signal.   
While promising new rights and articulating existing ones in the Manifesto, the Congress failed to disclose that all this is provided for in the Indian constitution.  It is the Constitution that has specified the rights of citizens that have been effectively interpreted and enlarged by the judiciary over the years.
It also the Constitution that specifies the citizens’ duties, a subject which all political parties avoid for obvious reasons.  It is also the Constitution which defines the duties and responsibilities of the State. The fact is that the Executive at the Centre and at the States has failed to protect the rights of citizens especially the poorest ones. 
If the Congress High Command wants clarity on this issue, it should read a report captioned ‘Need for ameliorating the lot of the have-nots – Supreme Court’s Judgments’ that the Law Commission (LC) released in April 2009. Had the Party’s think-tank read this report and certain other documents that nail Congress Party’s wrong claims on certain statutory rights, the Manifesto would not have been loaded with lies and half-truths and self-praises. 
The LC Report says: “Every man and woman has the human right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, to food, clothing, housing, medical care and social services. These fundamental human rights are defined in our Constitution. On 10 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”. 
The Report says: The right to be free from poverty includes:
The human right to an adequate standard of living;
The human right to work and receive wages that contribute to an adequate standard of living;
The human right to a healthy and safe environment;
The human right to live in adequate housing;
The human right to be free from hunger;
The human right to safe drinking water;
The human right to primary health care and medical attention in case of illness;
The human right to access to basic social services;
The human right to education;
The human right to be free from gender or racial discrimination;
The human right to participate in shaping decisions which affect oneself and one’s community.”
The report notes: “To make right to life meaningful and effective, the Supreme Court put up expansive interpretation and brought within its ambit a myriad of rights. Various laws have been enacted to eradicate poverty: some of them directly deal with them and some of them indirectly. Nevertheless, their tardy implementation makes us lag behind in effectively dealing with the problem.”
It adds: “In spite of the constitutional safeguards and State legislative intervention in favour of the poor and the needy, their socio-economic condition is deteriorating. Social and economic equality still remains a mirage for them.”
LC thus recommended that “the Union and the State Governments should accord top priority to implementation of the judgments rendered by our Supreme Court in their letter and spirit in order that the lot of the have-nots is ameliorated.”
Why has the UPA not issued the action taken report (ATR) on this report? Why has it not transformed Law Commission into a statutory body? Is it due to the fact that LC stands for the truth that the Congress in particular and politicians in general find unpalatable? 
Apart from the Constitution and the judiciary, non-congress Governments at the Centre and the States have contributed to articulation of different rights, both statutory & non-statutory. A lot of facts are available in the public domain to counter the Congress’ proprietary rights over the Aam Aadmi’s rights. 
Coming to the issue of Commissions, the Congress has made a crass attempt to woo different sections of the society by promising to set up statutory or non-statutory commissions. 
The Manifesto says: “The Indian National Congress will establish Special Commissions for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes to identify communities within each group which have not benefited from reservations and other affirmative action programmes and which need to be given a special focus.”
This promise is like adding salt in the wounds of SCs/STs. Many recommendations made for protection of their rights and for development made by National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) and National Commission for Scheduled Tribes have not been acted upon. 
UPA’s lip-service towards SCs/STs gets further confirmed by the fact it has not made public the annual reports of these two statutory commissions for the last several years! One can write a thesis on this. 
When UPA is not sincere about its constitutional and statutory obligations towards SCs/STs and their institutions, the other marginalized sections of the society are unlikely to get carried away by the Manifesto’s promise to “strongly protect the interests of the Other Backward Classes, especially those amongst them that are most deprived.”
It says: “We will establish a new commission to inquire into the condition of the most backward and marginalized Other Backward Class communities who have not adequately received the benefits of government programmes; and will recommend corrective measures.”
The Manifesto has also promised to set up a ‘National Commission for Students’, a ‘National Youth Commission’, ‘National Commission for Ex-Servicemen’ and a commission on labour law reforms. 
Why the existing Governance mechanism has not been used effectively by the UPA to solve the problems faced by different sections of the society? If the existing institutions have failed to deliver the desired services, what is the guarantee that the new ones would also not turn out to be white elephants. 
The suspicion would appear justified if we take into account another ridiculous claim made by the Congress. The Manifesto says: “The Indian National Congress will ensure that the recommendations of the second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) are implemented in letter and spirit and monitored at every step.”
The fact is that the UPA Government had put in public domain in 2010-11 its decision to reject several crucial recommendations made by ARC!  The disclosure is made in the action taken report (ATR) on each specific recommendation made in 12 of the 15 reports submitted by ARC. 
The UPA has, however, till today not made public its decision on the recommendations of the remaining three reports which are the most sensitive and crucial ones. 
The three reports are: ‘Public Order’ report submitted in June 2007, ‘Refurbishing Personnel Administration – Scaling New Heights’ report released in December 2008 and the report titled ‘Combating Terrorism-Protecting by Righteousness’ that was released in June 2008. This is yet another proof of the Congress’ disrespect for the right to information.
In its zeal to woo voters, the Congress perhaps forgot to mention that UPA has been sitting of the recommendations of   Commission on Centre-State Relations (CCSR) that submitted its seven-volume report in April 2010. CCSR had its origin in National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP), the agenda for UPA-I that was unveiled in May 2004. 
NCMP stated: "The Sarkaria Commission had last looked at the issue of Centre-State relations over two decades ago. The UPA government will set up a new Commission for this purpose keeping in view the sea-changes that have taken place in the polity and economy of India since then."
After this analysis, the discerning voter should decide what to make of the Party’s claim which reads as: “For the Indian National Congress, a Manifesto is more than a catalogue of promises and pledges to be forgotten after elections are over.”
(Posted at http://nareshminochapolity.blogspot.com or nareshminochapolity.blogspot.in on 31st March 2014)

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