In five years, Congress builds on its nyay theme

The 2024 manifesto also proposed to provide fast-track courts to adjudicate cases of leaking of question papers for recruitment examinations and provide monetary compensation to the victims

Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi at the launch of the party’s manifesto for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, at AICC headquarters in New Delhi on Friday (ANI)

The Congress manifesto released on Friday for the Lok Sabha elections is anchored to the concept of NYAY (or justice) — a theme that had governed the party’s 2019 manifesto as well, albeit in a limited shape. Back then, the principal opposition party had pitched NYAY as a minimum guaranteed income scheme for the 50 million families comprising the poorest 20% of the population.

Five years later, the Congress has widened the scope of NYAY to include 25 guarantees for youth, women, farmers, workers and social justice. The idea of economic and social justice, linked to the guiding principles of the Constitution of India and the abiding theme of Rahul Gandhi’s recently concluded Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, offers a bundle of sops to woo these segments.

The grand old party’s push for a socio-economic caste census and pledge to “pass a constitutional amendment to raise the 50% cap on reservations for SC, ST and OBC” to increase the quota is seen by many within the party as the most important promise, given the social ramification of the move. In the last general elections, the Congress had proposed a holistic agenda of affirmative action, setting up of an equal opportunities commission and filling up all reserved posts, and amending the constitution to provide reservation in promotion.

The 2019 manifesto had put employment and growth in its first chapter, saying: “The Congress pledges to give the highest priority to protecting existing jobs and creating new ones.”

The Congress in both manifestoes laid emphasis on filling up government vacancies — in 2019, the party had pegged vacancies at 4 lakh (400,000). In its 2024 manifesto, the party announced: “We will fill the nearly 30 lakh (3 million) vacancies in sanctioned posts at various levels in the central government.” It also promised that “funds for scholarships for OBC, SC and ST students will be doubled, especially for higher education. We will aid SC and ST students to study abroad; and will double the number of scholarships for them to pursue a Ph.D.”

The party in its latest manifesto said: “Our greatest concern was the prevailing ‘climate of fear, intimidation and hatred’. In the last five years, every section of the people has lived in fear; laws and investigating agencies have been weaponised to intimidate people; and through its words and actions the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and its affiliates have spread hatred among people belonging to different religious, language and caste groups.”

In 2019, the party’s concerns of fear had more to do with social choices. “Will India be a free and democratic country and will the Indian people be free from fear, free to live and work and pray and eat and love and marry according to their wishes,” Rahul Gandhi, the then Congress president, had asked in the introduction of the poll manifesto.

It also spoke of regulatory forbearance for MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises), promoting mass entrepreneurship, fiscal incentive for firms employing women and an enterprise support agency. This time around, the Congress has promised a new law on right to apprenticeship and said it will “restructure the Fund of Funds Scheme for start-ups and allocate 50% of the available fund, as far as possible equally among all districts, for providing funds to youth below 40 years of age to start their own businesses and generate employment.”

The 2024 manifesto has also proposed to provide fast-track courts to adjudicate cases of leaking of question papers for various recruitment examinations and provide monetary compensation to the victims.

The 2019 manifesto had promised MGNREGS to be increased to 150 days, while the party has pitched for ₹400 as wages in the latest poll manifesto.

In both the manifestos, the Congress vowed to decriminalise defamation — a charge under which Rahul Gandhi was convicted and sentenced to two-year jail term by a Surat court, leading to his temporary suspension from the Lok Sabha last year, before the Supreme Court overruled the order.

In 2019, the Congress had pitched for “restrictions” on investigative agencies, while this time, it has gone a step ahead and promised “that the police, investigation and intelligence agencies will function strictly in accordance with law. They will be brought under the oversight of Parliament or the state legislatures, as the case may be.”

The 2024 manifesto further said: “We promise to put an end to the weaponisation of laws, arbitrary searches, seizures and attachments, arbitrary and indiscriminate arrests, third-degree methods, prolonged custody, custodial deaths, and bulldozer justice.”

Five years back, the party promised to junk the sedition law, review the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), and hold police and administration accountable for negligence in case of riots and hate crimes. This time, the party has rejected the “one nation one election” idea, promised to restore the planning commission, and sought to amend the election laws to combine the efficiency of the electronic voting machine (EVM) and the transparency of the ballot paper.

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