Today, April 11th, the world’s largest democratic event kicks off in India – here is all you need to know about the election.
India’s general election covers seven phases which will conclude on May 19. More than 900 million voters, or more than the combined population of the US and European Union, are eligible to vote.
While more than 2300 political parties are registered, it is two parties that dominate the scene – Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC) led by Rahul Gandhi.
Over the coming month and across 29 states and 7 federally administered territories, 543 members will be elected to the Lok Sabha – the peoples’ house. The party or coalition with simple majority will be invited to form government.
Unlike 2014’s landslide victory, where Modi and the BJP won enough seats in the Lok Sabha to form government without the support of other parties, many sources point towards a much closer election this time round.
What is being promised?
The BJP and INC (below: Congress) both released their manifestos within the last two weeks. The Hindu provides this comparison of their manifestos in key areas (source):
The BJP has pledged to double the income of farmers by 2022. The Prime Minister Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) that was announced in the interim budget would be extended to all the farmers in the country.
The Congress has promised a separate ‘kisan budget’ for agriculture, besides establishing a national commission on agricultural development and planning and a commission on marginal farmers and agricultural labour.
While the BJP has said its landmark scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (Crop Insurance Scheme) would be made voluntary for farmers, the Congress says it will redesign the scheme.
While both the parties promise the expansion of modern warehouses, cold storage and food processing facilities, the BJP seeks to establish a national warehousing grid along the national highways.
Organic farming also finds a mention in both the manifestoes. In addition, the BJP has proposed eco-tourism in the vicinity of organic farming to provide additional income to farmers.
The Congress has promised to restore the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act, and the Forest Rights Act in its original form.
While the BJP wants to achieve its goal of generating 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022, the Congress has given a broad outline to tackle climate change. This includes the setting up of an independent environment protection authority, and defending India’s interests in international negotiations on climate change.
The BJP has promised to convert the National Clean Air Plan into a mission and focus on 102 most polluted cities in the country, and in addition to that, the Congress has promised to set sectoral emission standards.
The BJP wants to ensure a pucca house for every family, with a toilet, 100% electrification and safe and potable drinking water.
The Congress has promised right to housing for the urban poor. To ensure universal access to toilets, the party proposes a ‘nirmal Bharat abhiyan’.
While the Congress manifesto makes broad-based promises on transport and logistics, the BJP’s is more specific — 100 more functional airports, metro services in 100 cities, conversion of all railway lines to broad gauge, and a Bharatmala 2.0 to expand port capacities.
The BJP has an ambitious plan of making India a $5 trillion economy by 2025 and the third largest economy by 2030. It also plans to make capital investment of Rs.100 lakh crore in the infrastructure sector. Improving India’s rank in ‘Ease of Doing Business’ ranking, a single-window compliance and dispute resolution mechanism for MSMEs, and making technical and procedural defaults under Companies Act as civil liabilities, are some of the key reforms proposed.
The Congress has promised an open, liberal market economy. Autonomy of the RBI, scrapping of the Angel Tax for start-ups, rehabilitation plan for MSMEs, an increase in the share of manufacturing to 25 per cent, and a review of foreign trade policy and all laws, rules and regulations governing investments within three months.
The Congress has proposed a GST 2.0 regime based on a single, moderate, standard rate of tax on all goods and services, which will include tobacco, liquor, and petroleum products. It also proposes to implement a direct taxes code.
The BJP, which introduced the Goods and Services Tax, says it will continue to simplify the process by engaging in dialogue with all stakeholders. The party has pledged to “strive to ensure reduced tax rates, higher tax collection and greater compliance.”
Continuing its ‘Make in India’ initiative, the BJP promises to make India a global manufacturing hub by coming up with a new industrial policy with an eye on emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.
The Congress has promised to fill all 4 lakh Central government and institutional vacancies before March 2020. It has also promised to urge the State governments to fill up 20 lakh job vacancies. For low skill workers, it has promised a water bodies restoration mission and ‘wasteland regeneration mission’, with a target of creating one crore jobs. The Congress also plans to link the definition of MSME to employment. An enterprise support agency will be created to provide all-round support to entrepreneurs and start-ups.
A new ministry of industry, services and employment will be created. Businesses that create new jobs will be rewarded by lowering the effective direct tax rates and by lowering contributions to the CSR fund. Apprenticeship will be made part of the CSR rules.
The Congress has promised to re-establish the National Security Advisory Board, give statutory basis to the office of National Security Advisor and the National Security Council. An office of the Chief of Defence Staff will be established to advise the government on matters relating to defence. It has also vowed to increase the spending on defence and modernisation. The manifesto mentions expanding defence from territorial security to cyber, data, communication, trade routes, and financial security.
The BJP has emphasised on “zero-tolerance approach to terrorism.” It has promised the modernisation of armed forces, speeding up the purchases of outstanding defence related equipment and weapons, and strengthening the strike capability of the armed forces. ‘Make in India’ in Defence to promote production of defence equipment also finds mention in the manifesto.
The BJP has also promised to modernise the Central and State police forces and expedite police reforms in States. Smart fencing and integrated check-posts along the borders, establishment of a national committee for strengthening maritime & coastal security, and development of economic and social infrastructure in the Left Wing Extremism-affected areas are proposed in the manifesto.
The BJP has also promised resettlement options for armed forces veterans, which will be planned three years before their retirement.
The BJP proposes ‘Prime Minister Innovative Learning Program’ to instill a culture of lateral thinking and innovation among children. Every secondary classroom will be equipped with smart classes. Another 200 Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya schools will be opened in the next five years. The number of seats in Central Law, Engineering, Science and Management institutions will be increased by 50% in the next five years. Music University, Police University, Hospitality and Tourism University will be set-up. A new regulatory mechanism to grant autonomy to higher education institutions will also be set up. It also promises setting up one medical college in every district.
Congress has proposed transferring school education to the States List. Education in public schools upto Class XII will be compulsory and free of cost. It has promised to double the allocation for education to 6% of the GDP in the next five years. Vocational training as a compulsory component in secondary school education, public universities in under-served areas, restoring the 200-point roster system in Central Universities, and increasing the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in Higher Education to 40, are part of Congress manifesto. It also proposes a State-level examination in the place of NEET for medical admission.
Congress proposes to spend three per cent of GDP on healthcare by the year 2023-24. It has also promised Right to Healthcare and free public hospitals-model to provide universal healthcare.
The thrust for universal healthcare in BJP’s manifesto is through its flagship Ayushman Bharat scheme. It plans to set up 1,50,000 Health and Wellness Centres by 2022. The party also hopes to eliminate tuberculosis by 2022.
The BJP plans to map state and district-wise sport talent. A mini-stadium in each sub-district, a National Sports Education Board and Fit India campaign are part of BJP’s manifesto.
The Congress manifesto says the physical education and sports will be made mandatory part of the school curriculum. Centres of Sporting Excellence in different parts of the country, one community sports centre in each block and at least one multi-sport coaching centre in every district figures in Congress manifesto.
The BJP has promised to set up an Eklavya Model Residential School in every block where more than half the population are Scheduled Tribes. 50,000 ‘Van Dhan Vikas Kendras’ will be established to provide value addition to forest produce. Pucca houses for every family within 2022, bringing down poverty ratio to single digit, and higher interest rates on fixed deposits by the differently-abled are part of BJP’s promise for inclusive development.
The Congress has announced its flagship poverty alleviation scheme — NYAY, a minimum income support programme. Under the scheme, the poorest 20 per cent household will be assured of Rs. 72,000 income per annum. If a family earns say Rs. 6,000 per month, the government will transfer the remaining Rs.6,000 to the account of a woman of the family who has a bank account.
The party has also promised to amend the Constitution to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of disability. Congress manifesto also speaks of protecting the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community and gender sensitivity training. Both both the parties are non-committal on legalising homosexual marriages.
The BJP’s manifesto promises financial empowerment of women. This includes preference to government procurement from MSMEs that have at least 50 per cent women in workforce, three fold increase in childcare facilities by 2022, and a comprehensive ‘Women in Workforce’ roadmap. The BJP has promised to reduce malnourishment in women and girls by 10 per cent in the next five years. The BJP says it will create a separate Women’s Security Division under the Home Ministry. The BJP says it is poised to ban the Triple Talaq and Nikah Halala.
The Congress has promised that every Special Economic Zone will have working women’s hostels and safe transport facilities. It has promised to abolish laws that prohibit night shifts for women. It has also promised to strictly enforce the Equal Remuneration Act. It has also promised a separate investigative agency to look into heinous crimes against women.
While the BJP has promised to provide sanitary pads for Rs. 1 per pad, Congress says it will install sanitary napkin vending machines in public places.
Even though both the parties have supported 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and Assemblies, the Congress has also promised to amend the Service Rules to ensure one-third of Central government appointments are for women.
Congress has promised to pass an Anti-Discrimination Law, Councils for agriculture, healthcare and education, full statehood to Puducherry, Special Category Status to Andhra Pradesh, and define the role of Lieutenant Governors. As part of judicial reforms, it proposes to establish a National Judicial Commission, a Court of Appeal, an independent Judicial Complaints Commission, increase the representation of women and marginal sections at all levels of the judiciary.
The BJP has assured to bring reforms in civil services on the lines of “Minimum Government and Maximum Governance”. It also aims to provide end-to-end digitisation of government processes and digital delivery of government services. Setting up an International Financial Services Centre Authority is also in BJP’s wishlist.
On electoral reforms, the BJP wants to hold simultaneous elections for Parliament, Assemblies and local bodies, while the Congress is poised to scrap Electoral Bond Scheme and replace it with a National Election Fund.
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