Manifestos of political parties should, ideally, be taken as a sacred document in a parliamentary democracy. It is a declaration of the party for the next five years. While the winning party is expected to make sincere efforts to fulfil commitments made in manifestos, the opposition, too, should strive to work as a pressure group for its compliance.
Last week, the Congress and the NCP coalition partners of the Democratic Front government that ruled the state from Oct 1999 to Sept 2014 unveiled two separate manifestos. For the general elections held in 2009, theirs was a joint manifesto, a 24-page document with a dedicated chapter on Mumbai’s development. But, now, Congress’s plans have no such mention. NCP’s manifesto has a few points on development of infrastructure for the city. Interestingly, the BJP and the Shiv Sena, erstwhile coalition partners, are yet to release their manifestos even as the state goes to polls in nine days. Joint manifestos are a thing of the past with the rupturing of the two major alliances.
Promises, then and now
Let us compare what the Congress-NCP promised jointly, to what they say they will offer separately, if elected this time. The joint manifesto of 2009 had some important points. For instance, it promised a crisis management group for Mumbai, comprising city police and the civic body. An emergency response group was to be set up under chief secretary-headed crisis management committee. Apart from speeding up redevelopment projects for Dharavi, BDD chawls, police homes, a programme to construct 10 lakh homes was to be undertaken in the ensuing five years from 2009.
Under the ‘Vision Mumbai’ programme, the joint manifesto had promised a Bandra- Haji Ali link, a Haji Ali-Marine Drive link, a Trans-Harbour link, a cluster of 200 km of roads in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, five growth centres on the lines of Bandra-Kurla Complex, cleaning the Mithi River, modernised public toilets and pothole-free roads. There was also a one-window system for industrial development thrown in. Here’s more; the coalition had promised a Mumbai tourism promotion company for devising a tourism development plan for the metropolis, a Bollywood museum at Goregaon, a tourism-friendly shopping plaza, development of bandstands, night bazaars at three places and acquisition of Opera House and Watson Hotel for heritage conservation. In its 2014 manifesto, the Congress has made several promises in its 16-page document. The one-window system makes an appearance, this time for employment and small entrepreneurs. There is a coastal road for Mumbai, development of a dumping ground and a treatment plant, using latest technology, 500 sq-ft homes for residents of BDD chawls and Dharavi, and so on. Surprisingly, the manifesto speaks about the implementation of the Clinical Establishment Act, a UPA government legislation that has been pending with the state government since three years. The act is people-friendly, but medical practitioners have stalled its implementation.
Another promise that the Congress has made is to lower the age of senior citizens from 65 to 60. The truth is, the state ignored this demand when its policy for senior citizens was announced. It was said that the state lacked enough funds to lower the age.
In the NCP’s case, it is said that the 45-page document was chopped to 29 pages. It speaks about providing houses to slum dwellers of Mumbai, water connectivity between east and west coasts, a Bandra-Versova sea link, redevelopment of slums on MbPT and government land, BDD and BIT chawls, a Trans-Harbour Link in the next five years, public toilets, etc. A separate section on MHADA speaks about construction of houses for the poor and for people from the middle-class, and a housing regulatory body to deal with complaints of house buyers.
This is almost the same as the joint manifesto of 2009. The promises on water connectivity, sea link and Trans-Harbour Link are stuck in the political skullduggery between the Congress and the NCP. The party alleged that ex-CM Prithviraj Chavan never took up an initiative on these issues. So, both the manifestos turned into mere documents bearing promises. It remains to be seen how much of the new set of manifestoes actually materialises.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day