Election manifestos of political parties competing for seats in the forthcoming elections of five assemblies display a common thread. In keeping with tradition, there’re fiscal promises that’ll severely test FMs in future. However, it’s another trend gaining traction that’s more worrisome. Some of the fiscal concessions are designed to cater to group identities. This is an extension of community specific development boards in some states. The fallout of this phenomenon will be the balkanisation of society as the message sent is that hardening of narrow group identities can translate into economic benefits.
BJP’s election manifesto for Bengal has some of these features. There’s the promise of a standalone development board for Poundra Kshatriyas. Also, Matua Dalpatis have been handpicked for a monthly pension of Rs 3,000. Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are two other states which have favoured community specific development boards. The outcome will be wider social fissures. In addition to this, electoral pitches include the promise of bringing reservation benefits to some groups. An egregious case is the decision of Tamil Nadu’s AIADMK government to subcategorise the state’s MBC reserved category just hours before election dates were announced.
Specifics of election manifestos are inherently contradictory. Along with measures such as conditional cash transfers unrelated to group identities, political parties are simultaneously slicing and dicing the electorates into ever more vote banks. Consolidation of narrow group identities will create new challenges. Moreover, it’s antithetical to the view that a job is the best form of inclusion. The environment for job creation is weakened by another kind of promise. Even now, political parties resort to promising in-kind subsidies which lead to economic distortions. DBT, easily done today, is superior to promises such as free electricity. Eventually, India benefits when political parties avoid catering to narrow interests.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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