The BJP’s much-delayed election manifesto focuses heavily on infrastructure creation
The BJP’s much-delayed election manifesto focuses heavily on infrastructure creation – 100 smart cities, diamond quadrilateral of bullet trains, gas and optic fibre grids – and reinforces the party’s well-known opposition to allowing foreign investment in retail.
By not shutting the door to certain policies – such as to more FDI in defence and labour policy reforms – the BJP has given itself wiggle room for future policy reform, but made it clear it is not in favour of a right-of-centre agenda, at least not overtly.
Since the BJP’s campaign has largely been couched in a jobs-vs-dole manner, most expected the BJP to talk of how, for instance, subsidies would be rationalised – these rose from 1.4% of GDP during the NDA years to 2.4% during UPA-II – but there is little talk of that in the manifesto. Instead, the manifesto restricts itself to talking of following ‘financial discipline’, a term that can be used to suggest the party will cut down on subsidies. Apart from stating that the most successful models of PDS will be incorporated, the BJP’s stand on subsidies – including in the Food Security Act – is expected to be the same as the UPA’s. The term ‘subsidy’ does not, in fact, even figure in the manifesto.
While there is talk of unbundling the Food Corporation of India’s (FCI) into procurement, storage and distribution, there is little clarity on what the road ahead will be – it is well-known, for instance, that FCI holds between 2 and 3 times the ideal stock, which both blocks up precious funds as well as blocks out private traders from the market. By promising a minimum 50% profit margin for farmers, the BJP has seemingly committed itself to extending the old Minimum Support Price-based model instead of moving to a more market-friendly per-acre subsidy of the type recommended by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices.
As in the case of the Congress party, the BJP has shied away from directly attacking the current labour policy – while promising to bring stakeholders together to review labour laws, the BJP has promised to issue ID cards (Aadhar?) to unorganised sector workers which presumably will be used to help them avail of good quality health and education services. It has, like the Congress, promised to review the Apprentice Act to make it easier for industry to hire trainees.
Given how the BJP supported the UPA’s land acquisition Act, the party’s stance on this suggests industry may be in for a bit of a shock. While saying it will protect the interests of farmers, the BJP’s manifesto says it “will look at the scientific acquisition of non-cultivable land” – in other words, land acquisition will continue to remain a troubled issue for industry.
There is no talk of PSU reforms, much less privatising them; nor any talk of giving PSU banks more autonomy, or of lowering the government’s stake in them. Fixing bad governance is the key message, not unleashing any set of policy reforms.