A manifesto is a memorandum of understanding between a political party contesting the elections of a country and the country’s citizens. It entails the promises based on which citizens make their choice of whom to crown, and whom to give the responsibility to run the affairs of the nation. As citizens, it is our responsibility to know and understand the promises so that we make an informed choice in the ongoing Lok Sabha election. The BJP launched its manifesto ‘Sankalp Patra’ on 15th April. Here are some claims made in the manifesto:
In the manifesto, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claims that India has achieved 99% sanitation coverage. However, the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) failed to identify that water and toilets are two sides of the same coin. Majority of the toilets constructed under the SBM lack water supply. A quantitative survey by RICE in 2018 found that many places with a significant level of open defecation were declared Open Defecation Free (ODF). The rate of open defecation in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh was 50% and 25% respectively when the state was already declared ODF. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar had 40% and 60% rate of open defecation respectively, when a vast majority of the states was declared ODF.
In the same study, it was also found that tactics like harassing people while defecating in open, cutting off government support mechanisms such as ration, pension or threatening to do so, and fining people were deployed by government officials or members of community vigilance groups to implement SBM. The study states that Dalit households are over twice as likely as others to report that their own household received one of these three forms of coercion and Adivasi households were almost three times as likely.
SBM hardly addresses a reworking of the underground sewerage system. Under the SBM, millions of septic tanks and pits are being constructed. Without proper planning of faecal sludge management at the village level, the onus of cleaning the septic pits is likely to shift to the Dalit community, especially those belonging to the Valmiki or Hela castes. This is a grave concern since many individuals of the same castes have died while cleaning manholes that open into the sewerage system.
In the Sankalp Patra, BJP boasts of the Ayushman Bharat insurance scheme. While in reality, Ayushman Bharat is a strategic means of feeding private hospitals and insurance companies. In India, health service is dominated by private parties and by means of this scheme, the government has further washed its hands off providing health care facilities to its citizens directly. Via this scheme, public money will be channelled to private facilities. The dominance of the private sector is particularly worrisome in a situation where neither quality of health care nor its costs are regulated. Furthermore, the Ayushman Bharat scheme covers only a minimal part of the cost involved in treatment in hospitals.
What in turn is needed, is to develop an adequate network of primary health care centres and affordable and high-quality public hospitals with trained and adequate number of doctors and other health care professionals. BJP promises to achieve this through establishing and developing 150,000 Health and Wellness Centres. Such a mammoth task would require a considerable increase in the Health budget.
In the 2018 budget, health had a share of only 2.1% of the total budget. Also, in the 2018 budget there has been a considerable decline in the allocation for the National Health Mission, a national programme that funds infrastructure for primary health care, which went down from Rs 31,292 crore in the 2017 budget to Rs 30,634 crore in the 2018 budget. The Sankalp Patra does not mention increasing the share of Health in the Union Budget. It is impossible to achieve the above-mentioned tasks without this increase and even if there is an increase, it will be difficult if the majority of the funding gets diverted to the Ayushman Bharat Insurance Scheme.
The BJP has taken the Sankalp to enact the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill even when citizens (especially from the North Eastern states) have opposed the bill. The bill seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The bill violates the rights of indigenous people (especially in the North-Eastern states) enshrined in clause 1 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, which states that indigenous communities and individuals have the right to not be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.
Moreover, the BJP says that it will complete the process of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and implement NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country. In Assam, the final list of the NRC had about 40 lakh, unlisted individuals. In Assam, which is prone to floods every year, many individuals lost their homes and documents to verify their citizenship.
In addition, the transgender community is almost completely unlisted in the NRC. A majority of Hijra individuals leave their natal family at a young age and thus do not possess the documents to verify their legacy. For many indigenous communities, having a document to prove their legacy and thus their citizenship is a foreign concept. The implementation of NRC is going to adversely affect the indigenous and the transgender community.
BJP takes pride in India climbing 65 points in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index. However, for the Adivasi/Tribal communities, it is not a matter of pride, rather a matter of serious concern. To climb the said ladder, the nation has to make policy changes, has to develop policy to serve the corporates and encourage privatisation. In India, such policy changes also have a caste dynamic, as it is specific castes that dominate the businesses in India.
In the Sankalp Patra, the BJP takes pride in India becoming a net exporter of electricity. Is it, however, a matter of pride for the Adivasi/tribal citizens whose land is being forcefully taken away to produce the said electricity? Adivasi and Dalit villagers of Godda district have filed a suit in the Jharkhand High Court against illegal land acquisition for Adani Power Plant. The Jharkhand government has made legislative changes in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act to acquire land from unwilling villagers for the Adani Group. The power plant is getting established on 2000 hectares of fertile land which is being forcefully taken from the local Adivasi citizens with the support of the Jharkhand Government. The electricity produced in Godda will be sold to Bangladesh.
Furthermore, BJP has taken the Sankalp ‘to take necessary steps to leverage the tremendous potential of hydroelectricity in the Northeastern states.’ This means construction of dams and hydro-electricity plants in the region which will cause displacement of millions of local tribal population. Is this the ‘sab ka saath, sab ka vikas’ claimed by BJP?
Also, BJP promises to take steps towards linking rivers from different parts of the country to solve the issue of available drinking water and irrigation water. Linking rivers will disrupt the natural flow and course of the rivers which further means destroying the natural ecosystem, destroying forests and displacement of millions.
BJP has consistently failed to uphold the rights of the Adivasi/tribal and communities living in and around the forests. The recent Supreme Court’s order of evicting more than 11 million Adivasi forest dwellers and Prime Minister’s utter silence on the issue clearly indicates that BJP is least concerned about the Adivasi/Tribal communities. The BJP continues to plan to build its version of ‘development’ on the shoulders and at the cost of the Adivasi and Dalit communities.
The development of public schools (commonly known as government schools) has no mention in the Sankalp Patra. In the section on Education for all, BJP stresses on the development of Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas, whereas the majority of India studies in the public schools.
The Right to free and compulsory education is poorly implemented with the poor teacher-student ratio, lack of infrastructure, overburdening of teachers with administrative work. In the government school curriculum, the Adivasi/tribal perspective, culture, and narratives are (on purpose) not given space. Also, Right to free and compulsory Education is only till standard 8, the next government should extend the right to standard 12 and focus on developing the quality of education in the public schools. Many children leave school after standard 8 and this raises a serious question on the State’s intention to provide for the fundamental right to education, in extension to the right to life of its citizens.
Even after the 72 years of India’s independence, the literacy rate among the ST, SC and OBC communities is among the lowest. In the Sankalp Patra, the BJP takes pride in passing (the unconstitutional) 10% EWS reservation, representing the over-represented, to give access to education and jobs to communities which have historically hijacked education and jobs. The BJP government’s 10% EWS reservation and also its attempt to bring in the 13 point roster is evident that it wants to wipe out the presence of ST, SC and OBC individuals from educational institutes.
Christy is an Adivasi of Munda Tribe whose work lies in the intersections of Adivasi, transgender and child rights. He has been actively working with Adivasi tea garden workers and Queer Movement.