The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) finally released its manifesto on February 8 (Tuesday), merely two days before the Uttar Pradesh elections was kickstarted. Given the party’s religious fundamentalist approach to politics, the manifesto naturally highlighted the enormity of Kumbh and Mahakumbh, celebrated the success of Kawad Yatra, proudly claimed the protection the Mata (Mothers) and Behen (Sisters) of Uttar Pradesh (oh, the irony!) interspersed with the mention of a few infrastructural projects. The manifesto was unwrapped from a stage that witnessed the presence of home minister Amit Shah, and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
The BJP UP Manifesto 2022 is titled Lok Kalyan Sankalp Patra. The ministers at the launch event referred to the significance of the name as it is meant to be a letter of resolution rather than a declaration of promises. The unveiling revealed the cover page which depicted PM Narendra Modi is well in line with the BJP’s promise of a double-engine government.
The manifesto was launched on Tuesday, just two days before the beginning of the first phase of Assembly Elections. The manifesto was set to be launched on February 6 but got delayed due to the news of singer Lata Mangeshkar’s demise. Yet, the delay in the launch of the manifesto begs the question of the political party’s intentions.
The elections must be fought on the criteria of development promises but when manifestos are launched so late in the game, the attention is completely deprived of them. The manifesto promises jobs for at least one member of each family, though it doesn’t detail how it would be possible and in what field. It also promises two crore tablets and smartphones under the “Swami Vivekanand Yuva Sashaktikaran” scheme for students. The manifesto stresses on free coaching to the youths aspiring for competitive exams like UPSC, NDA, etc.
The BJP government seeks to appease the young aspirants of government jobs with this move. Especially after the recent protests that made headlines. The delay in the Railway exam results fuelled widespread agitations by the frustrated and helpless youth. Meanwhile, the central government itself laid out reports that indicate at least over 25,000 Indians died by suicide due to unemployment and/or debt between 2018 and 2020. With the apparent distrust and turmoil in the students, what remains to be seen is how ‘free’ coaching would ease a structure where jobs are very few and the selection procedure is riddled with late exams, unresolved entrance rifts, and delayed last dates.
Manifesto Resolutions Focused On Specific Communities
Banking on its strong Hindutva narrative, the BJP Manifesto proposes a Ramayana University which would facilitate research on culture, shastras, and religious facts associated with the god Ram. To lure the voters of the Nishad community that is primarily occupied with fishing, the manifesto has released a “Nishadraj Boat Subsidy Scheme”. It promises a 40% subsidy to fishermen and a 25% subsidy for setting up fish seed production units. The BJP’s focus on the Nishad caste identity in the UP elections has piqued the interest of many. Last month, at the Lucknow stage which saw Amit Shah with Sanjay Nishad, the chief of the Nishad party, the mythical story of Ram and the Nishad king Guha was recounted, in what could have easily been an attempt to appeal to the religious sentiments of the community.
The manifesto also promises life insurance coverage to construction workers and free education to their children up to graduation. Health insurance up to Rs 50 Lakhs is promised to auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers under the Ayushman Bharat Scheme.
Appeasing The Farmers
Post the repeal of farm laws and in the aftermath of the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, the ruling party seems bent on appeasing the farmers. They have been offered free electricity for irrigation and grants for setting up bore and tube wells. They have been assured price stability that would retain the minimum support price (MSP) for crops like potato, tomato and onion. Amit Shah promised that the long-pending payments of sugarcane farmers will be expedited and in case of delays by sugar mills, interest would have to be paid along with the payment.
Farmers have also been promised that the procurement of wheat and paddy on MSP would be strengthened. The MSP has been a bone of contention between the government and the farmers. With its new set of promises, the ruling government seems to pacify the farmers by addressing the issue in the manifesto, though there was no reference to the previous claims of the party that their incomes would be doubled by 2022.
More Protection In Store For Women
In his speech at the release of the manifesto, Adityanath began by quoting what his government has apparently already done for the protection of women in his state. The manifesto then takes it ahead by announcing free public transport for women over the age of sixty. Women college students have also been promised free scooters. It is, however, important to note how many parties in the past have promised free cycles, free bus rides and the like. When it comes to women, political parties have a tendency of distributing freebies and pink-washing them as a token of freedom, and that is about it. They presume that women prefer staying under guardianship rather than encouraging them to be free.
The manifesto also announced a Mission Pink Toilet which estimates a cost of one thousand crores for the installation of public toilets for women. Dignity in sanitization must be a motto for every gender and the problem with pink toilets catering to the needs of only a specific gender is that it could be particularly harmful and discriminatory against the interests of trans and queer folx. The BJP government also mentions an increased installation of CCTV cameras at public places and 3,000 “pink police booths”, thus again increasing surveillance of women’s bodies and mobility under the garb of ensuring protection. Pension for widows is also promised to increase to INR 1500 a month from INR 1000. With the coming of elections, almost all parties promise a pension for the widow and destitute women, but it remains well established how they remain at the farthest margins of our policy making.
The only mention of the Ujjwala Yojana happened when the manifesto promised two cylinders a year under the scheme, one on Holi and the other on Diwali. From the first edition of the scheme advertised through the sentiment and popular imagery of a mother coughing in the kitchen to its 2.0 version where smiling women are proving testimonies, the one-time subsidy scheme of the Ujjwala Yojana has been a trophy scheme for the BJP Government. The ground reality however is that the increased LPG prices and the wavering family incomes have forced the households to return to their traditional methods of cooking. The promise of two cylinders a year might feel like a good idea on paper, but it would only humiliate the poor households. Also, it begs to be noted that the cylinders are promised on the occasion of two Hindu festivals, while the scheme boasts of being secular.
Last But Not The Least, The Strengthening Of Love Jihad Laws
Following its agenda of Muslim otherisation, the love jihad laws are proposed to be strengthened further. The Anti-Conversion law passed in 2020 would now include an increased jail term of ten years and a fine of up to one lakh. Many leading newspapers made Love Jihad its headline to introduce the BJP Manifesto. In a country where Muslims have increasingly become a persecuted minority, where as little as wearing the hijab or merely existing on the Internet are seen as acts of courage by Muslim women, the repercussions of this law coming into place is almost predictable.
Of course, there are also several mentions of infrastructure projects such as a mega leather park to be set in Kanpur which is expected to give almost two lakh jobs. The metro rail projects in Varanasi, Meerut, Gorakhpur, Bareilly, Jhansi and Prayagraj and the development of Jewar as the hub of aviation, innovation, and research are some other significant mentions in the manifesto. Yet, the underlying tone of a communal cleavage of religion, caste, and gender which becomes apparent in the tone of the speech at the manifesto release event is absolutely unmissable. It also deserves mention that the party’s manifesto does not mention Kashi or Ayodhya in its usual Hindutva sense and the pink-washing is a vague attempt at gender equality. The BJP Manifesto seems caught in the balancing act of Hindutva nationalization, patriarchal projection and capitalistic ventures based development.
Featured image source: DNA India