Words. Words. Words. Do they really mean anything? Or are they just promises without action. The Congress spells out a ‘detailed plan of action’. The BJP takes a “sankalp”. If they were really serious, then why the “five decades of dynastic rule” (as Narendra Modi describes Congress rule) could not implement the earlier manifesto of “garibi hatao” and the present Congress, now the opposition, had to come up with a new Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) to support the 20% of the population, which is statistically considered to be poor?
However different the two main national parties seem to be on the surface, they are effectively riding the same horse when it comes to tackling poverty. A lot of noise has been generated after the Congress manifesto announced NYAY. BJP already had announced a ‘universal basic income’ scheme in their last budget, though it was limited to the poor farmers only. Congress’s UBI is broader, involving all sections of the poor segment of the society and the promises of the dole will require a larger budget. None of the parties are clear as to how they will raise these funds. Both the UBI schemes are a clear admission of the ruling parties of their failure to raise the economic lot of the lowest strata of society through their official development schemes. Manifestos are turning out to be false promises, even after 72 years of our independence.
Manifestos, most certainly, are one form of political communication. There are, of course, many other forms of political communication. For example, one newspaper analyses the speeches of the two prime ministers in their official capacity and surprisingly finds that Manmohan Singh is not as ‘silent’ as he is supposed to be. On an average, Manmohan Singh had delivered 135 speeches a year against Narendra Modi’s average of 143. Singh spoke more about the economy reflecting his training as an economist. Modi has spoken more about farmers and soldiers. Singh’s top word-pairs were climate change, science and technology and economic growth; whereas Modi’s most populate word-pairs were years ago, whole world and first time.
Manifestos and speeches are not enough. There are many more ways by which the politician seeks to persuade voters. Manifestos, speeches, and even TV commercials are more broad organisational strategies. To reach his voter – the politician’s target audience – it’s important that the politician does door-to-door and street corner meetings. Even a national party will build active units at ward, panchayat, block, district, and constituency levels. Organisationally, a national party will reach out to all the 600,000 villages of India. Political identity is sometimes a greater motivator than a financial incentive. Greater the networking, greater is the persuasive power. Solving a dispute, accompanying a villager to the police station or the administrative office does the trick.
If the organisational network is kept well-oiled over the years, the party higher-ups look confident. The TV commercials, the manifestos, and podium speeches are just icing over the cake. The left parties at one time did build up this organisational structure in the states of West Bengal and Kerala. But it crumbled in places where the organisational network was neglected. The BJP, especially in the past few years, has built up a formidable organisational machinery. But the Congress is still floundering on this front. Manifestos, at the ground level, will not persuade the voter to vote but an active organisation will.