As political statements of intent during election time, manifestos are understood to be grandiose and unreal. The Congress’s just-released manifesto is a similar enterprise, with some interesting, not-so-practical and other downright imprudent ideas. The major promises of the manifesto, with an eye on the youth, are: providing a one year apprenticeship as a right to every diploma holder or graduate below the age of 25, raising the 50 per cent cap on reservations and conducting a caste census, providing a legal guarantee to MSP, starting an urban employment guarantee programme and bringing about tax reforms.

The promise of an apprenticeship at ₹1 lakh a year, to be shared by the private party and the government, seems innovative but is also disconcerting. After railing against the government for not creating jobs, the Congress needed to come up with a response. Even as it is hard to say at the outset whether this can outperform the current skilling initiatives, it does raise some immediate concerns. Is it a great idea for industry to lose its freedom to hire workers, and what does it get in return? The promise to enact a Direct Tax Code and maintain stable personal income tax rates is a welcome commitment as also the abolishing of angel tax and similar tax schemes that inhibit investment in new micro, small companies and innovative start-ups. Another promise is replacing the current GST laws enacted by the NDA Government with GST 2.0 along with a single, moderate rate that will not burden the poor. States would appreciate the commitment to end the “cess” regime that they have long held as denying their rightful share of tax revenues. Promises to strengthen the Competition Commission of India and various appellate tribunals cannot be faulted.

As for fiscally imprudent proposals, one such is the Mahalakshmi scheme to provide ₹1 lakh a year to every poor family as unconditional cash transfer. A guaranteed MSP falls in the same bracket, unless the party has some caveats up its sleeve. Thankfully, the ill-conceived idea of reverting to the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) has been given a quiet burial in the manifesto.

A proposed constitutional amendment to raise the 50 per cent cap on reservations for SC, ST and OBCs is problematic, even if a caste census is less so, if only for the information it places in the public domain. Political parties have to think beyond reservation quotas that only serve to create disaffection among communities. The lack of emphasis on health and education for all, as an antidote to the politics of reservation, really stands out here. Finally, it is disingenuous for the Congress to accuse the BJP of enacting laws that inhibit personal freedoms. It was during the UPA’s tenure that most of the provisions of the dreaded POTA were incorporated into the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Even the Prevention of Money Laundering Act came into force in 2005 when the rules were framed by the UPA government. But such about-turns are only to be expected, with elections in the air.