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Questions on economy can wait, it’s enough that Congress has promised so many freedoms

Many of the Congress’ promises might even be unimplementable. But for a major party to come down on the side of individual freedoms must be welcomed.

TN Ninan
Graphic by Arindam Mukherjee | ThePrint

Two broad points should be made about the Congress election manifesto, released earlier this week. First is the commitment to increase government expenditure in many ways: Double general government expenditure on health to 3 per cent of GDP, double expenditure on education to 6 per cent of GDP, spend close to 2 per cent of GDP on the Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY), the hand-out programme, by the second year of its operation, and increase defence expenditure in relation to GDP. Taken together, they constitute an expansion of government expenditure by somewhere between 5 per cent and 7 per cent of GDP. But in the 52 sections of the 55-page manifesto, there is almost nothing on how resources will be found for all of this, other than an anodyne statement in the NYAY context on raising revenue and cutting expenditure.

The additional commitments being promised must be weighed against the reality that the tax revenue of the general government (Centre and states combined) is only about 17 per cent of GDP, and there is already a general government deficit of over 6 per cent of GDP. Meanwhile, 4,00,000 government vacancies will be filled, and a million people appointed in panchayats and urban local bodies to help people claim government benefits. All those people will have to be paid. The only conclusion one can draw is that the promises must be taken with a generous pinch of salt, despite the assertion by Rahul Gandhi that he has never broken a promise that he has made.

Also read: Kisan budget, media freedom, Right to Healthcare — Congress manifesto reaches out to all

The second key aspect of the manifesto concerns an entirely different set of issues, to do with individual liberties. The Congress deserves generous applause for taking the position that it has on the sedition law and various laws that provide for detention without trial — some of them dating back to colonial times and some worse than the laws imposed by colonial rulers. The party has also promised to de-criminalise defamation (as most other democracies already have), and to review the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. Going further, it promises to enact legislation against custodial torture, hold the police accountable to an independent body, make bail the norm rather than the exception, and to set selected under-trials free, depending on the nature of the accusation and how much time has already been spent in jail. The manifesto mentions that the relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code, such as the one on sedition, have been misused; the question is whether such misuse is inevitable.

It is doubtful whether even this second lot of promises is easily deliverable. For instance, court orders are already on record asking governments to free under-trials who have served half the maximum sentence prescribed for the crimes they are accused of committing, but no action has followed. Still, the fact that a national party has come down so unequivocally on the side of individual freedoms is to be welcomed wholeheartedly when the issue of national security has been so framed as to encroach on those freedoms, when even asking questions is said to be anti-national, and when the Congress itself has in the past been guilty of encroaching on the same freedoms, including press freedom.

Also read: GST 2.0, more jobs, ‘Make for the World’ policy — Congress manifesto focusses on key areas

There will also be legitimate questions about whether such sweeping changes are practicable in a short span of time. Third-degree torture is almost the primary method of interrogation by the police. If a new law rules this out of order, and the police are to be held accountable in a way that they are not currently, the system will need to radically re-orient the police force and invest in training. How quickly can that be done? Similarly, there can be legitimate questions about whether the state does need some special powers when it is faced with armed revolt in parts of the country. The issue is how to provide for such situations while building in effective safeguards. Those questions are for later. For the moment, it is enough that a major political party has come down on the side of constitutional freedoms and internationally recognised human rights.

By Special Arrangement with Business Standard

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  1. Going by the headline, I read Ninan in the hope that he may have something to offer. He seemed to have believed the congress-imbecile’s pranks. Congress suggested to wind up the Republic of India. Ninan is gleeful about the promises but doubts whether it is possible to implement in a short time. Alas! Who will save us from these nutty journos who seem to have gone crazy.

  2. The blogger has enough money to feed generations of his family. What about ordinary who live a day to day life?

  3. Vaise dekha jaaye toh, Congress ka economy ko manage karne ka record koi itna bura nahin hai. Quite a few competent people.

  4. As like the fake promises on economy, it should be noted that even promises on human Liberty is purely in for making news. Besides, lot of that required logical and technical discussion which at this stage appears not at all done.

  5. Will they provide for bail in case of the SC/ST Act, considering that the Congress first raised the issue of Supreme Court order on SC/ST Act and then supported even denial of anticipatory bail in case under SC/ST Act? There is a limit to hypocrisy.

  6. It is an illogical proposition from TNN that even if Congress may/can not fulfill any of its promises in its Manifesto, whether relating to fiscal or political issues but we must hold Modi accountable for running cleanest government for 5 years and taking many bold and far reaching policy decisions. None of the Acts affecting individual liberties were enacted by Modi and its so called misuse by Modi government is hardly unusual compared to earlier periods. It would have been better for TNN to say that being a pseudo secular left liberal journalist, I do not like Modi and I would vote for Congress. This require no round about logic and is an ideological position with which no one should have any objection.

    • It is a huge joke that Modi ran a clean government for five years. Corruption in the Rafale deal is public knowledge. Once Modi leaves, we will come to know so many other scams. Can any one believe that the BJP election machinery is funded by contributions from the common people?


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