With the election just around the corner, both parties and the people are gearing up to bring their favoured parties to power. The media is already full of debates, memes, mock polls, predictions and so on. While people do their own bit by arguing, discussing and convincing their friends and acquaintances to vote for a certain party. And the parties, of course, organise rallies.
At least that’s the healthy picture of a campaign that we like to imagine, while pretending that the violence, hollow promises, discriminatory political tactics, etc. do not exist; the operative word here is pretend, but let’s not go into that for now.
In this active rush of campaigning we often forget about the document that forms the basis of the entire campaign, i.e. a party’s election manifesto.
According to the Oxford dictionary, a manifesto is “a public declaration of policy and aims, especially one issued before an election by a political party or candidate.”
But just like Indian politics, a manifesto is dynamic, diverse, sometimes misleading, and therefore must be handled and read with care. Here are a few tips for you before you pick up this document and decide about where you would like to make your vote count.
The first step to understanding a manifesto is to actually read one. Most of us make do with summaries or reviews in the news and media, which have the drawback of being biased, or opinionated, and thus manipulate our views, with the viewers being none the wiser.
Thus reading the original document helps us to notice certain points that the summaries and second hand information miss out on. A critical reading is only possible without a middleman in between.
While reading a manifesto one should notice its tone. It’s easy to judge, and says a lot about the party. Is the tone too confident? Is it more emotionally driven, but lacks facts and practicality? Is it accusatory towards the opposition?
All these and many more questions can help us understand the attitude of the party towards problems. If its focus is too much on the criticism of the opposition, then it is more concerned about its place rather than the actual working and development. Such governments do not last long and often break as there is hardly any common agenda apart from their mutual rivalry with the opposition.
If the manifesto is heavily dependent on the emotional aspect and rhetorical way of persuasion, then it likely lacks solid plans and substance to sway the public.
The tone and phrasing also gives an idea about how the party would handle stressful situations.
Go through the goals and the agendas of the party: long term and short term. We should see if the long term goals are impractical and out of reach; if so, then the promises are basically hollow and are only there to attract voters. We should check if the long term goals also have a long term plan, which is feasible and realistic.
The short term goals are just as important. A lot of short term promises are extremely appealing, but have no overall economic or social benefit, make sure to stay cautious if you encounter such marketable, but damaging, strategies.
An article on LiveMint throws light on the matter, “Currently, the long-term goals are vague. The 2014 INC manifesto mentions promotion of a “more flexible labour policy” and “greater integration with [the] global economy”, but it doesn’t hint at what these lofty goals will entail. Likewise, the BJP manifesto stated that “administrative reforms will be a priority for the government” and will be “implemented through an appropriate body under the [Prime Minister’s Office] PMO”, but it doesn’t tell us what these administrative reforms encompass.”
No government document is complete without the financial aspect of it, and a manifesto is no exception. In fact most manifestoes try to sneak past this particular point as it is the link which reveals the solidarity, or its lack, in their plans. If a party is making mighty pronouncements about development and tax relief, it’s important that it also tells us where it is planning to get the funds from. A cut in taxes has huge impact on the national funds, how is a party planning to compensate for the loss? Or how is it planning to source financial aids for the projects?
This point is a weak link, and it’s always easy to spot.
Compare the manifesto with that of other parties and see the similarities and dissimilarities in them, check the various approaches to a problem the other parties are taking. It helps us figure out which party is focused more on what, and it also lets us see the ‘hows’ of the issues.
Also see which party actually sticks to its manifesto and at least tries to meet it, and which one does not. It’s also a good way to see which party follows up with its promises.
Compare the document with that of the past year’s. See if there is any change or improvement, or if it’s the same old flattering words being served to us just with different packaging.
No party will explicitly say anything in a written document that could hamper its appeal, but we must be careful about what is being omitted. Parties try to favour certain communities and vote banks, but they never do it explicitly and always try to sugarcoat it. It is here where they omit the most.
Therefore its important that we are aware of the beneficiaries of the party’s past projects and actions. See if the benefitting community coincides too much with the ethnic identity of the members of the party, to the point where the empowerment of one community is unjustly done at the cost of the others. This also says a lot about how the party will deal with the varied ethnic identities and communities in the constituencies, and its treatment of marginalized and backward sections of the society.
All in all, there is no one strict formula of evaluating an election manifesto. We should be politically aware, read the news, watch debates around these documents and hear what the critics have to say as it helps us get a different and broader perspective.
However, Indian election manifestos tend to go unread. Most of them are vague, or similar, and sometimes seem like a formality. But this drift of the importance of manifestos in the world of market and digital campaigns is talk for another time; for now, let’s try and understand what we already have.