NEW DELHI: India’s main opposition party on Tuesday unveiled its election manifesto, pledging minimum income support for 250 million people and special help for minorities and those in the disputed Kashmir region.
The first phase of the country’s election begins April 11 and the results are due on May 23, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the main opposition Congress bidding to take control of India’s lower house of Parliament.
“We would focus on wealth and welfare,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said at an event that was attended by former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, head of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Sonia Gandhi.
He promised a minimum job guarantee of 150 days for people in rural areas under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act, an employment scheme launched by a prior Congress government that ensured 100 days of guaranteed work.
The manifesto promises gender justice and a 33 percent reservation for women in government jobs.
An appeal to farmers comes in the form of a separate budget to address their issues.
Congress also pledged to provide minimum income support of $1,060 per annum to 250 million poor people.
“The last five years have been disastrous for the people of India,” Gandhi told reporters after the manifesto’s release. “Youths have lost jobs. Farmers have lost hope. Traders have lost business. Micro, small and medium enterprises have lost their confidence. Women have lost a sense of security. Deprived communities have lost their traditional rights. Institutions have lost independence. In this time of deep crisis the Congress Party promises a clean break from the past five years.”
The party declared its support for pluralism and promised to protect religious minorities and ensure their full constitutional and physical safety, which had been “endangered” in the last five years.
“In the last five years, the BJP government has spread hate and divisiveness. Congress will work toward uniting India and bringing people together,” said Gandhi.
The party promised to protect Article 370 of India’s constitution which gives special status to Kashmir state, following demands from some groups to remove it.
It said talks with all stakeholders were the only way out to find a “respectable solution” to the problems in the state.
The manifesto pledges to reduce the presence of army and paramilitary forces in the disputed territory and also dilute the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives unlimited power to security forces in the valley.
But the BJP slammed the manifesto as “dangerous and un-implementable, and an agenda for the balkanization of India.”
Cabinet minister Arun Jaitley warned that such agendas served to break up the nation. “Being involved in terror will no longer be a crime,” he said. “The party which says this does not deserve a single vote. If all the Congress plans are implemented, there will be rule of insurgents and terrorists. If Congress tries to establish this, it will not be acceptable.”
However, political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said it was a brave manifesto and that Congress was no longer shy of stating its ideological position.
“By promising protection to minorities and political initiatives in Kashmir Congress is boldly countering the hyper nationalism of the BJP,” he told Arab News.