A seemingly weak attempt to counter the biggest poll promise of the main opposition party Indian National Congress (to provide Rs 72,000 annually to India's poorest 20 per cent) and a promise to make capital investment of Rs 100 lakh crore in the infrastructure sector are the highlights of the just-released election manifesto of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
BJP's Sankalp Patra, released on Monday, promises to expand its existing Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana -- that ensures Rs 6,000 annual income support to every farmer owning land up to 2 hectares -- to each farming family, irrespective of the size of landholding. The amount is much smaller than Rs 72,000 promised by the Congress as annual income support for the bottom 20 per cent of India's poor in its election manifesto. The BJP sop though could cover more people if its definition of farmer includes landless farm labourers and tenant farmers, too, given the size of India's population that depends on agriculture for livelihood.
To top-up, BJP promises to launch a pension scheme for all small and marginal farmers and expand the existing Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maandhan pension scheme to cover all small shopkeepers in the country. The party says that it will promote the government's Credit Guarantee Scheme to MSMEs and ensure that Rs 100,000 crore worth of credit gets disbursed to MSMEs by 2024. Considering the fact that the credit uptake for 2017-18 under the scheme was around Rs 19,000 crore, it will be a five-fold jump.
There is also an assurance to provide short-term new agriculture loans of up to Rs. 1 lakh at a 0 per cent interest rate for 1-5 years on the condition of prompt repayment of the principal amount. A 'pucca' house to every family by 2022, with piped water connection by 2024 is another ambitious promise.
The other major highlight of the manifesto is the promise of making a capital investment of Rs 100 lakh crore in the infrastructure sector by 2024. Though BJP did not elaborate on the funding mechanism, the size of the proposed investment (four times the size of central government's 2018-19 annual budget of Rs 24.5 lakh crore) makes it clear that implementation of the promise solely depends on the government's ability to attract private finances as debt or equity into the infrastructure sector.
The Sankalp Patra also points to BJP's smart way of setting milestone targets that do not sync with the 5-year term of an elected government. In 2014, the party promised to achieve a lot, including doubling of farmers' income, by India's 75th year of Independence (by 2022). The advantage of such a medium-term promise is that five years later, as the party faces another general election, many of those promises can find repeated mention in the election manifesto. The 2019 Sankalp Patra reiterates all such promises that had a 2022 completion deadline. The manifesto also talks about the BJP's pledge to make the next five years as the foundation laying period for India of 2047 (100 years of Independence).
Pending promises, fresh assurances, and broad statements thus mark the economic and social components of the Sankalp Patra.