Election manifestos are part fiction, part fact. The just released manifesto of Indian National Congress is no different. While there are some bold suggestions, implementation hurdles may put them in the realm of good intention rather than a to-do-plan for the next five years. A first glance at the Congress Manifesto suggests that the key promises like assuring a minimum income guarantee for 20 per cent of India's poorest families and providing 34 lakh jobs in public sector enterprises are all initiatives that require centre-state cooperation. Further rationalisation of GST (Goods and Services Tax) rates is another example where the promise is more of one's intent than something the central government can do on its own.
The manifesto, however, deserves praise for touching upon almost every key issue that has been worrying Indians - poor and rich alike - in the last five years. For instance, the proposal to ensure that every enterprise employing more than 100 persons will be asked to carry out apprenticeship programme is skilling at one end, and talent supply at the other. Rewarding private firms for generating new employment should be music to job-intensive sectors such as garments and leather as most of them have been going through a tough patch in recent years. Farmers are given the same refrain - remunerative prices and low input costs. A permanent farmers' commission and a separate Kisan Budget, are good.
Health is one area where India has been waiting for the successive governments to allot at least 3 per cent of GDP spend. The Congress manifesto also talks about it, but universal healthcare is still at a distance. Health remains a state subject and adoption of Clinical Establishment Act in letter and spirit is something beyond the powers of the central government. The usual promises, revitalising manufacturing, increasing defence spend, etc are too broad for any meaningful assessment. Having good public-funded schools is a necessity. And it should be taken up with utmost seriousness. What remains to be seen is how the Central government could cleanse the state education system as education at primary and secondary levels falls under the state list.
Gender justice, by reserving 33 per cent new jobs and vacancy filling for women, is a good idea. Reservation for women in the Parliament will be the first such measure to be implemented if the Congress gets a chance to be in power. Restricting Aadhaar use is another announcement, which is in tune with the demands of civil society groups. The decision to make institutions like RBI, Election Commission etc free of political interference is something that is in the Centre's domain.
Last but not least is the promises related to urban governance and climate change. Both are, as in the case of several other key promises, something that cannot be driven only by the Central government.
As we await BJP's election manifesto, all we can say about the Congress one is that it attempts to renew the poll-time talk of cooperative federalism through most of its key promises.