Manifestos: Voters may feel cynical, but parties still perceive it as an attractive route

G Balachandar Chennai | Updated on March 24, 2021

While Dravidian parties bet big on doles, non-Dravidian parties take to good governance and development

Tamil Nadu is always known for its populist election manifestos. But, in this era of social media and other mediums that help people access/analyse many things, do people read the documents and take it seriously? Also, do manifestos sway the undecided or a section of people that seek a change? Well, the response is divided.

But political parties reckon that manifestos do play a crucial role no matter how those measures mentioned in the document are perceived.

“Sometimes even party members don’t read them fully and people may not be aware of more than the headlines and some numbers mentioned in the manifesto. But parties are reflections of the society and a large cadre-based party will always reflect the real scenario and take into consideration the prevailing sentiments of the people,” says Karti P Chidambaram, Member of the Parliament, Congress Party.

For instance, direct cash transfer scheme is the right move given the prevailing poor economic situation. It can’t be seen in isolation as a poll gimmick. “Globally, economists are in favour of direct cash transfer as it will help restart the economic engine from slump phase through improved consumption,” he adds.

‘Religious process’

Voters may be cynical about politicians’ promises, but parties in Tamil Nadu argue that manifestos are not just aspirational documents, but they believe in fulfilling even though failure to do has not cost any election so far.

“For a party like AIADMK, the manifesto has been a very religious process. Right from Amma’s (late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa) period, a committee is formed, it is empowered to take inputs, and the party leadership validates the viability. And Amma was always very particular that the party delivers on its promises,” says Aspire K Swaminathan, Secretary - IT Wing & Joint Coordinator - Media Relations - AIADMK.

AIADMK announced free laptop schemes and delivered. This scheme has been replicated in other States like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab among others. So, there is also an element of good model to follow for others.

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Dravidian parties

“Amma formed a special implementation department and it was empowered with senior IAS officer and a Minster for implementation,” says Swaminathan adding, “Till now, our party has been able to deliver on promises made in our manifestos. Also, our announcements in the manifesto will not have any controversial statements — be it in delivering social justice or caste-related measures. That is the hallmark of AIADMK party.”

The other major political party DMK also says that they don’t make promises just for the sake of doing it. This time DMK’s manifesto is a comprehensive one and it is the result of one year of hard work through discussions and consultations with various associations and bodies.

“Our manifesto has a whole host of announcements. These are not hopes but promises after considering the situation at the ground level. We can even unveil the number associations we consulted in every district. Be it reduction of fuel prices or other measures, we have clearly stated how we are going to do. We are aware of the resources constraint. We have stated that it will be done through boosting revenues. Credibility also matters while making promises. It was a well-though out document and we are confident of fulfilling them,” says Kasi Muthu Manickam, Secretary-Traders Wing, DMK.

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Kamal Haasan in the fray

This time in Tamil Nadu, a non-Dravidian party that is also making waves among the voters is actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan-led Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM.

“Manifesto is something meant to be a vision document. But it has become more of announcing some attractive schemes in the last minute for swaying the voters rather than spelling out how the governance is going to be,” says R Rangarajan, ex-IAS and the State Secretary, MNM.

He is of the view that while cash doles for the benefit of poor or downtrodden are welcome, there should be an equal amount of vigour to increase the standard of governance and living of people. “This is where MNM has been cut above the rest. We didn’t wait for election dates to make statements on transforming the governance in the State or arguing for monthly payment to housewives.”

“Our promises are also well-thought-out ones to benefit all stakeholders. A promise of a free computer and Wi-Fi-connection to every household is more of an investment as it will benefit both the citizens as well as government, which need not deploy so much of manpower to deliver services,” says Rangarajan.

Governance for BJP

BJP points out that a manifesto should be nothing but an extended plan of developmental work of the government/parties. It is not a bonus scheme or some attractive measures for short-term.

“Our policy is to convey about the road in which the governance will travel till the end of the term. That is why we call it as a vision document,” says T Narayanan, official spokesperson of Tamil Nadu BJP.

Meanwhile, experts reckon that compared to many other countries, Indian political parties exhibit more enthusiasm in welfare schemes, which is always good for democracy. At the same time, people are also much aware of the fact that making announcement is different from the commitment to implement.

“Election Manifestos should primarily focus on promoting a favourable environment in which the business/industry can flourish, delivering growth and increased employment. Promises related to heightening the quality standards of Education and Healthcare should be framed based on ground realities and available resources,” says Venkat Raj, a communication strategist.

Published on March 24, 2021

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