Saying much but nothing at all
Political parties make all kinds of promises during election season, but none of their manifestos ever seem to matter
It’s amusing how politicians seem to think we are all a bunch of morons suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It’s worrying how they are probably right, given what we allow them to get away with. I think about this whenever the circus we call Election Season comes around, when parties beat their drum, shout each other out, and trot out promises they think we all want to hear.
There are all kinds of wild claims and promises made during this time as if the manifestos are created not by people who understand a state’s problems, but by rejected writers of fiction who need to kill time before their next awful novel.
I spent some time reading a few of the manifestos that were released over the past couple of weeks. I did this not because I love wasting time on things that don’t mean anything to anyone, but because everyone I spoke to about the elections claimed to know nothing concrete about what these manifestos were promising. They simply weren’t taken seriously. There was apathy in these responses, of course, but also an extreme cynicism that ought to worry anyone invested in the idea of a democracy. There was no worry either though, because it sometimes feels as if we have all decided to give up and go home.
The first manifesto I picked up promised to make the state drought-free. It involved the collection and diversion of rainwater, the creation of a comprehensive water grid, and a few other things that appeared to have been cobbled together from earlier manifestos created during the last elections. Around a quarter of a century ago, journalist P Sainath published his seminal collection of articles on rural India titled Everybody Loves A Good Drought. It documented everything from the bureaucracy that gets in the way of common sense to unbridled corruption that allows land to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. So much of what he uncovered continues to be relevant today, prompting me to look at the manifesto before me as nothing but a farcical document.
Another promise involved jobs for one crore youth, which is the kind of generic statement that is guaranteed to yield nothing. After all, who will count these one crore youth and who is to define what these jobs involve? What do these youth get paid? Are they ever given enough to sustain themselves? None of these questions were addressed in detail, obviously, because we are not a nation that prides itself on specifics when the generic makes for better headlines. The manifesto could have listed jobs for two crore youth instead of one, but probably didn’t because another manifesto had already claimed the figure.
Then there was the promise of constructing 30,000 kilometres of rural roads. Consider, if you will, the state of a single kilometre of urban road the next time you step outside. What does this pristine construction look like? How does the vehicle you’re in respond to it? Given how many people die routinely on these roads because of potholes, think about the quality of these rural roads and how long they may last, if they are ever created at all. Consider that one may simply drop a few hundred paver blocks in a straight line somewhere and tick off ‘ Road Constructed’ in a file that can then be added to a list of accomplishments.
Another promise involved rehabilitating the families of martyred soldiers. This is the perfect kind of promise to make because, as Bollywood has long taught us, it involves just the right amount of cheesy tugging of heartstrings. It ticks all the appropriate boxes — ‘ rehabilitate’, ‘ martyr’, ‘ soldier’ — that crop up with stunning regularity whenever we are asked to forgive or forget something, by people who visit war zones only via a television remote control.
I stopped reading after a point, because another promise about cheap meals reminded me of the exact same promise made a few decades ago. This time, the cost was Rs. 10 per meal. Back then, we were promised a meal for Rs 1. All we got instead was a land grab scam for stalls that eventually sold Chinese food, and probably continue to do so.
For once, I would like to see promises kept instead of promises made. Promises about pothole- free roads, clean public toilets, more efficient hospitals. Results we can see, for a change, rather than results we have no way of proving. I am, unfortunately, old enough to know this will never happen.
When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.
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