Marginalised and Muslims in the manifestos of mainstream political parties

As the nation gears up for the Lok Sabha election in 2024, the pledges and promises of the political parties take centre stage through their manifestos. Amidst the drowning cacophony of the narratives, chest-thumping, and electoral fervour, it is crucial to pause and examine how these manifestos will affect the downtrodden section of the society: […]

As the nation gears up for the Lok Sabha election in 2024, the pledges and promises of the political parties take centre stage through their manifestos. Amidst the drowning cacophony of the narratives, chest-thumping, and electoral fervour, it is crucial to pause and examine how these manifestos will affect the downtrodden section of the society: Scheduled Tribes (STs), Scheduled Castes (SCs), Other Backward Castes (OBCs), and religious minorities, particularly Muslims.

These communities have been subject to systematic discrimination, economic deprivation, and exclusion, reclining them to the mean shades of grey for far too long. The manifestos are a litmus test of the political parties’ commitment to inclusivity and social justice. They are seen as harbingers of hope to the millions of people whose voices dissipate in the corridors of power.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), is all set to lock horns with India National Democratic Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), led by the Indian National Congress (INC), simply the Congress Party. The impending election is widely seen as the battle of these behemoths.

Despite alliances, different parties within the alliance release their separate manifestos. The underlying reason for this practice is attributed to the party’s ideology, priority, and promise, which highlight their individuality. This provides room to tailor the manifestos to cater to the local population by making them region-centric.

BJP’s Sankalp Patra: Modi ki Guarantee promises inclusive growth with almost a dominant focus on STs. Central to their vision is honouring the 150th birth anniversary of Bhagwan Birsa Munda by declaring 2025 as Janjatiya Gaurav Varsh. The manifesto promises to eliminate malnutrition in tribal children and provide comprehensive healthcare facilities. Additionally, the party pledges to preserve and promote tribal heritage and culture by establishing Tribal Freedom fighter Museums, language preservation, and research institutes.

For their economic upliftment, the manifesto promises accessible credit facilities through PM Suraj Portal, MUDRA Scheme, PM Svanidhi, and PM Vishwakarma Scheme. It additionally promises to invest 24,000 Cr. through PM Janman to bring the socio-economic status of the vulnerable tribal group on par with the society.

BJP vows to encourage innovative and technology-driven solutions to initiate commercial and sustainable forest-based enterprises by associating all eligible self-help groups with Vandhan Vikas Kendra, FPOs, and NRLM to scale the business activities relating to minor forest produce.

It further assures to expedite the construction and operationalisation of the Eklavya model of residential schools in the tribal area and expand the existing scholarships for the OBC, SC, and ST students enrolled in the higher education institute.

Sadly, the Sankalp Patra remains silent on the issues of minorities. It probably assumes that the broader vision of Sab ka saath, sab ka Vikas, would take care of the welfare and development of Muslims. The absence of specific initiatives for minorities naturally does not go well with them. The BJP manifesto also chooses to remain silent on any assurance to minorities against the real or perceived threat emanating from the CAA and NRC, which the BJP vehemently argues for.

The political parties joining forces under the banner of the Indian National Democratic Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A) have also released their manifestos, showcasing coinciding promises intertwined with nuanced differences that reflect their varied ideological and regional difficulties. I.N.D.I,A has the Indian National Congress (INC) or the Congress Party as its forerunner.

Congress Party’s manifesto, Nyay Patra, promises social justice and protection of minority rights. To enumerate caste and sub-caste and their socio-economic condition, the India Bloc pledged a nationwide caste-based census to identify the inequalities and shed light on how caste interacts with other factors, such as gender, economic status, and geographic location, which influence exposure to resources.

All the parties in the I.N.D.IA Bloc pledge to broaden the reservation for the downtrodden cohorts unequivocally. They promise to remove the 50% cap on the SC, ST, and OBC reservations. Moreover, an additional 10% of seats is promised for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) across the board.

The Congress Party seeks to abolish appointments on a contractual basis and promises to regularise all employees working on a contract basis. It also pledges to clear the backlog of vacant OBC, SC, and ST posts within one year. The call for economic enfranchisement resonates deeply within the parties of the I.N.D.I.A bloc. Land reforms, institutional credit, and a conducive environment for economic activities form the cornerstone of the collective effort by the India Bloc aimed at fostering inclusive economic growth.

The I.N.D.I.A bloc offers unwavering protection to minorities regarding freedom to dress, choice of food, and personal law. Any reform in the personal law would be taken only after due consideration and with the community’s involvement. It is also pledged that minorities will receive their fair share of opportunities in all spheres of life.

It says that Maulana Azad Scholarship will be restored and expanded. Scholarship funds are promised to be doubled, especially in the higher education sector. It assures that the recommendations of the Renke Commission would be implemented to provide free education to the students belonging to the Nomadic Tribes and De-notified tribes. To safeguard students belonging to marginalised communities from discrimination at educational institutions, the Rohit Vemula Act would be implemented.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) espouses socialist principles, highlighting caste- and class-based discrimination together. Plans for labour rights, social welfare, and land redistribution underline the party’s unwavering dedication to Marxist intellectual foundations. In keeping with its Marxist-Leninist leanings, the Communist Party of India (CPI) emphasises the importance of workers’ rights and grassroots democracy, and its recommendations tend to support labour unions, implement agrarian reforms, and promote grassroots empowerment.

Electioneering rhetorics aside, voters must choose between the pro-business stance and strong leadership narrative and participatory governance and empowerment.

As India stands at a crossroads, the choices made in this election will shape the country’s trajectory for years to come. Hence, it is crucial for the voters to critically evaluate and see through the façade and choose wisely, ensuring inclusive growth for each and every stratum of society. By casting their votes, citizens can pave the way for a better tomorrow, where no individual feels oppressed, and each individual gets an opportunity to thrive.

Furqan Qamar teaches at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, while Sameer Ahmad Khan is a research scholar at the same university. Views expressed are personal