The Supreme Court judgment on election manifestos, howsoever painful it may appear for the political parties, is certain to come as a big relief to electorates lured away by political parties under false promises. The SC has come down heavily on the freebies offered by the political parties and the move is certain to cleanse the election system rotten with falsified notions of ideal governments.
The SC judgment should not be taken in isolation, merely on the issue of freebies but added with false promises those that are difficult to fulfil. A case in point is the promises made by Congress and NCP -- the two alliance partners of the Democratic Front government ruling Maharashtra since the last 14 years. Both parties fought separately in 1999 but came together to form the government.
During the 1999 State Assembly elections, Congress made an important poll promise on administrative reforms and good governance in its manifesto. It would have come as a big relief for people who always grumble over red-tapism, delay and corruption in government offices. But, despite enacting a law on transfers of government officers and prevention of delay, hardly anything has changed. Figures published by the Anti-Corruption Bureau on its achievements shows the number of officers arrested while taking bribe is just increasing each year.
From 1999 to 2004, Cong-NCP government, instead of fulfilling their promises, spent most of its time in probing decisions taken by the Sena-BJP government during its rule from 1995-99. The Congress was highly critical of the saffron government on SRA, Shiv Shahi Punarvasan Prakalp Ltd, Enron deal and many issues. The atmosphere created by Congress was such that the state was cheated by the saffron parties and the party would undo the damage. Surprisingly, hardly anything was scrapped and Cong-NCP government continued with the projects.
The biggest promise on freebies came in during state assembly elections in 2004 when the then CM Sushilkumar Shinde announced free power supply to farmers. This was in response to a similar announcement made by Sena chief Bal Thackeray. Fearing Sena-BJP might win the elections on this sole promise, Shinde made the announcement. But, his successor Vilasrao Deshmukh reneged on it saying promises have to be made during the elections and need not necessarily be fulfilled.
Congress-NCP has promised a memorial of Chhatrapati Shivaji off Girgaum Chowpatty, metro and monorail for Mumbai, a load shedding-free state and fought three elections on it. A few months before the 2009 elections, a ground breaking ceremony for Metro II, connecting Western and Eastern suburbs via Bandra was graced by then President Pratibha Patil but hardly anything has happened since then.
Besides free electricity for pumps up to 5HP from July 1, 2004 Congress-NCP, during 2004 elections promised the creation of 1 crore jobs, industrial development centres in backward areas, special boards for unorganised labour to be set up at district levels on the lines of Mathadi labour board, 20% reservation in government jobs for financially weak youth, target of 100% literacy, setting up of Task Force for drop-outs, tap water in five years to every village, setting up Housing Repair Boards for Nagpur, Nashik, Pune, Kolhapur etc and to protect old tenants, special task force to resolve urban issues including maintenance of roads, water supply, efficient public transport, setting up of Old age homes for senior citizens across Maharashtra, implementation of Srikrishna Commission in letter and spirit and special cell to prevent encroachment of Aukaf lands.
From the long list of promises, hardly any have been fulfilled.
Similarly, in 2009, Congress-NCP promised to make Mumbai an international financial capital in five years, self-sufficiency in power and constructing 10 lakh subsidized homes for the poor, safety of the Wakf lands. Other points of the manifesto were Rs 600 per month pension for destitute senior citizens and free education for boys up to Class 12 and girls till graduation. The two parties promised to make a fixed deposit of Rs.1.25 lakh for every female child born in the state that would be utilised for her education and other requirements after she becomes a major. Most of these promises are still on paper when the state will go for polls next year.
Public memory is very short. Political parties take full advantage of it. The Supreme Court judgement can be a step in this direction as the class committed for voting will not get lured away on promises such as free food grains, electronic gadgets, mobile phones and so on. Instead, the performance of ruling party and the parties in Opposition justifying their roles should be under constant public scrutiny.
-- The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY