ByÂ Sara Sinha:
India, which is today, the world’s largest democracy and slated by political and economic analysts to become a world superpower during the course of the twenty-first century, is aided in its development by the fact that more than half of its population is below the age of twenty-five, compared to other countries like China, Japan and Western Europe where the population has gone up significantly. However, despite this vast resource of youth, it is believed by many officials that the young people of India are largely apathetic towards politics and would rather do other things than cast their vote. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that the youth do not know who to cast their vote for. They do not know which political party will be better for the country. All politicians make promises to improve the state of the country. Could party manifestos be the answer to instilling in the youth a sense of which politician would promote their interests?
The dictionary describes a manifesto as a ‘public declaration of intentions, opinions, objectives or motives issued by a government, sovereign or organization.’ Party Manifestos are issued at the time of election and they describe what the aims, objectives and even achievements of the political parties contesting the elections are. This gives people an idea of which political party would serve their interests and the interests of the nation better. Many people would contest the importance of a political manifesto and state that political parties do not follow up on what is promised in the party manifesto. However, political policies often do implement what is in their party manifestos, and even when they do not, the party manifesto provides a platform from which to seek various reforms. The party manifestos also shed light on existing social and economic areas, which need improvement.
Education, which directly involves the youth of India and plays a pivotal role in helping to mobilize and utilize our vast youth population is discussed in some detail in the party manifestos of the two largest national political parties, the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, both currently members of coalition groups, the United Progressive Alliance and the National Democratic Alliance respectively. Both describe in detail the means by which they seek to provide better quality education that is free to all and believe that improving education is the ticket to India’s prosperity.
Both the NDA agenda and the UPA agenda involve the use and improvement of Internet Technology to increase the distribution and quality of education. Both the NDA and the UPA agenda also believe in skills training at a secondary education level. Both parties aim at providing education to the underprivileged, including women and members of the Dalit community and in raising the income spent on education through partnership between the private and public sector. The 1999 NDA manifesto stated an objective of ensuring free and compulsory education up to the fifth standard. This was manifested in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme initiated by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister of India. The UPA government carried this programme forward and also successfully implemented the Midday Meal Scheme which fed over fifteen crore children at the time of the 2009 elections. The NDA agenda also proposed increasing governmental and non-governmental spending up to 6% per GDP.
The Congress party manifesto stated the aim of the Congress was to make quality education available to everyone through easy access to loans and financial assistance. At the time of the 2009 elections, India had one of the largest systems of educational loans. Like the NDA agenda, the UPA agenda emphasized on a skill-based programme that was implemented in a large Skills Development Mission. Similarly, the UPA government also aimed at providing free education to backward communities. The May 2004 mandate of the UPA government laid emphasis on empowering the weaker sections of society through education.
Sometimes party manifestos reflect the nature of the political parties, whether they are rightist parties or leftist parties. For instance the BJP manifesto states that the Indian education system needs a complete transformation and advocates an approach that is more in accordance with the customs and traditions of India’s past. This statement might cause the youth to question whether a return to past ideas is really the answer. At the same time is a highly modern approach to education the answer either? One sees an example of how a modern system of education might not be successfully implemented in India in the changes made at a higher education level in Delhi University, which has recently been subjected to a number of changes within the system. Some of these changes were influenced by the system followed by other foreign universities. The success of these reforms is heavily debated with thousands of protestors denouncing these reforms on various grounds. One argument made against the new four year programme is that awarding a diploma after two years will encourage drop outs, particularly female drop outs who will be compelled by family members to drop out of college sooner. Therefore while looking at educational changes, it is important that we keep in mind the social and economic background of India, particularly those which affect the youth who are the future of our country.
In conclusion, while party manifestos are important for providing a platform from which to work on socio-economic change, the time has come to move forward, for the youth to become involved in educational reforms that directly affect them. The time for the Old is gone. The time for the Youth is now.