Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which rode to power on the back of popular disenchantment, has a lot to deliver to keep up its poll promises. With the youth emerging as an important constituency, Shivani Gupta urges the government to go beyond poll promises and chalk out tangible policies based on a nation-wide pre-election exercise, which came up with charter of demands that reflect the younger generation’s aspirations.
A new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has been voted to power, with its main constituent, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), emerging as a party commanding a majority in parliament on its own. This political victory is not only the result of an impressive publicity campaign by the party, but also the disillusionment that people felt with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. While the old government has left the nation with many cases of corruption and a highly debatable performance on inclusive growth, the new government’s victory has been its claims to development, good governance and accountability.
The vote share of the BJP is around 32 per cent. This has led to a spate of media opinions that swing between hopefulness and cynicism with regard to the new government. The optimism is that India will become a new model of development to reckon with. Pessimists fear the threat of minorities losing their basic rights. If we move out of these polarised debates then the need of the hour is to look at the promises that were made by the BJP in its Manifesto.
In a newspaper article, Syed Mohammad Ali says, “Manifestos are meant to provide a roadmap highlighting the unique vision of different political parties for tackling major challenges facing particular countries. Political manifestos can thus provide a tangible means for voters to assess and reward political parties on the basis of their performance, which is vital for countries like our own where democratic governance is still a fragile and evolving phenomenon.”i Political manifestos are a parametre to judge the success and achievements of the government and they hold utmost importance in a democracy like India where the demands are as diverse as the population.
Manifesto-making then becomes an extremely political exercise for both the people whose demands are being incorporated in it and the party that will be fulfilling the promises. It is with this idea of committing to political manifestoes that ComMutiny – the Youth Collective, with 45 coalition partners across the country, led forward a journey to make a youth-centric manifesto, through a programme called 'My Space-My unManifesto'.
‘My Space – My unManifesto’ is to make the young engage in the political process beyond simply voting on the day of elections and simultaneously exploring their space as citizens in a country where democracy is coming of age especially because “it is very important to harness the energy, creativity, enthusiasm and intellect of the youth to give this nation a more meaningful future and change the regressive and archaic status quo that it is existing in.”ii
The unManifesto campaign was based on the principle of a 5th Space - a space for youth to explore themselves without having to be confined by four traditional spaces of family, friends, career/education and leisure.iii It is a journey from self to society. The unManifesto sought to look at politics as a 5th Space, a space of exploration where youth can participate in the political process rather than just blaming the system and seeing it as a ‘dirty’ space. The programme is based on the idea that politics is not something distant and that we are all ‘everyday politicians,’ involved in acts of decision-making, influencing, organising and manipulating.
Alice from Lewis Carrol’s classic Alice in Wonderland celebrates ‘un-birthdays,’ which means she celebrates her birthday every day of the year. Using the same metaphor, we want to create spaces for young people where they can engage in politics all the year round in every twist and turn of the political story and not just on election day. Instead of only blaming the political leaders we want youth to progress to claiming democratic spaces for themselves.
The unManifesto journey was organised at ground level through workshops with the youth to change their apathy towards politics to empathy and build learning and leadership so they could take informed stances. The unManifesto presence was widely made available online through online partners. The extensive outreach to 1.2 lakh youth on the ground and 14.5 lakh through online platforms that materialised in collecting 80,000 promises across 20 States and 2 union territories has shown the deep impact the journey has had on the youth.
The campaign was spread across India and worked in different socio-economic and political contexts and on varied issues such as governance, gender empowerment, transgender and sex workers, tribal and Adivasi rights, child rights and education. But what marked the common goal among all the partners was to empower and provide space to the youth to articulate themselves.
The journey was focused on a holistic engagement and development of youth in politics, leadership and exploration on self vis-a-vis society and a democratic nation. Therefore, delving into each outcome will unfold the processes, mechanisms, successes and challenges that the journey experienced at national and regional level.
The process of collecting promises from the youth was a long drawn out and an intellectually stimulating one. This was because every section of youth represented a community that had its own demands. While some demands, such as having viable employment options for all, were universal, some were very specific and contextual.
The promises listed in the youth manifesto reflect a range of demands from the issue of youth participation in politics, education and health care to rights and safety for women. The demands are inclusive and represent different sections of society, even those that the law is yet to recognise. These demands speak of ideas of justice, equality and of well-being that the youth envisions for this country. This also establishes that youth do not only think about themselves but go beyond to think of society and the welfare of all.
While the youth showed their competence in politics they also set a great exemplar of leadership. Young adults from small towns and villages clearly expressed their needs and what it is that the society needs without dismissing politics as being irrelevant. They realised that to be a part of politics is to be part of the change they want to see. The young adults who were influenced by the unManifesto journey and principles went ahead to introduce others to the idea of the 5th space and a special journey towards leadership from self to society.
The unManifesto journey culminated with youth entering political spaces and voting for the candidate and party they deemed fit to govern the country.
The BJP in its manifesto has promised for a range of development and improvements that the country requires especially on two counts; one, economic development and two, to unify the nation. There is a strong focus on bringing in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), evolving public-private partnerships and developing special markets for agricultural products. A second focus seems to be to ensure that the safety, protection and demands of Hindus are fulfilled across the nation as the party has promised reconstruction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya and for law to be practised under a Uniform Civil Code. They also speak of sustainable employment for all sections of the society especially the youth.
While the BJP manifesto seems progressive it ends up excluding too many sections in too many ways. It assumes certain expectations of the people without really reaching out to them and understanding their demands. Contrary to this is the manifesto that the youth of the country has come up with, as the unManifesto journey worked at the grassroots level and gathered voices that often go unheard in mainstream politics.
While the BJP has won the mandate this time, most probably because of the non-performance of the UPA government in the last 10 years, it is still important that the government hears what the youth want. A common link between the two manifestoes is that it provides the youth with employment through self-sustenance and control over price hike. The urgent need right now is also to look at other promises that are required to be worked on urgently, such as women’s safety and protection and reservation in important institutions such as Parliament. While this is just one of the demands there are many more demands that the youth is expecting that the government will fulfil.
The BJP has already started to make its presence but we as youth want the government to be cognisant of the following demands and work towards them.
1) Mandate active youth participation in democratic processes in order to set the agenda for nation building:
a) Setting the agenda:
i) Mandate 35 per cent reservation of youth representation in legislative assemblies and cabinet equivalent bodies of which 50 per cent reservation for women (including women in minority category).
b) Enhance civic and political participation by the public:
i) The provision of postal ballot should be available all across India;
ii) Political parties should declare their manifestos three months before the elections for a deeper level of discussion and debate with the public.
2) In education we want the development to be relevant and impactful:
a) Allocate 7 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education;
b) Consult relevant stakeholders (students, teachers and experts) before making any change in the education sector;
c) Reservation to include financial criteria along with caste;
d) Make technology studies with functional computer labs compulsory, especially in government schools;
e) Hold government and government schools responsible for the implementation of the Right to Education Act, especially by engaging with children’s parents and providing them with an incentive to make their children to go to school;
f) Development of better higher education institutes, especially universities, in rural areas.
3) Youth also demanded spaces for themselves that are safe and co-owned by demanding that 25 per cent of the education budget be invested in creating facilitated safe spaces for young people to learn more about their own and "others’" identities by reflective action and co-mingling constructively across the borders of caste, religion, gender and political affiliation.
4) Immediate legislation on an anti-communal violence bill. This is important because India in the past has had some horrific communal violence incidents and to have legally developed provision to grapple with it will ensure justice providing mechanisms.
5) Ensure safety and dignity of women through:
a) 33 per cent reservation in legislation and cabinet;
b) 33 per cent reservation for women in all police forces;
c) Raise legal marriageable age for women from 18 to 21;
d) Proper implementation of the Justice Verma Committee Report;
e) Amend AFSPA in light of the Supreme Court judgment that it should not apply in cases of rape and murder;
f) Provide maintained and clean toilets every 2 kms in all public spaces;
g) The government should legislate on Pension Parishad;
h) Every work place should have a committee against sexual harassment under Vishakha guidelines.
6) Create viable employment options for all:
a) Strengthen vocational training and life skills for all those who want it and job placement mandatory in every higher education institute;
b) Start Employment Guarantee scheme that gives you respectable work in your home town;
c) Increase in job opportunities through including and enhancing small scale industries;
d) Create special job opportunities for rural youth from class 10 onwards;
e) Unemployed youth should receive an unemployment allowance in all the States across the nation;
f) Better implementation of social entitlements and welfare schemes for the poor and marginalised in terms of unemployment wages, equal wages for equal work, health and housing benefits, and pension for the elderly.
7) Bring in transparency in the public sphere:
a) Legislate and enforce a strong Lokpal system;
b) Bring all parties under the ambit of the Right to Information Act (RTI) for the money that’s spent in election campaigns and otherwise;
c) Better implementation of the provisions under which RTI activists are given special protection;
d) Ministers who have criminal charges filed against them should not hold any public office.
8) India has huge population and there is an urgent need it to look at the health sector:
a) Reservation of 4.6 per cent of total GDP for health care;
b) Free health services in the rural and tribal areas with essential medicines to be free of cost;
c) Survey, monitoring and re-imagining the government health services;
d) Ensure proper reach, functioning and monitoring of the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and anganwadi schemes ensuring quality pre- and post-natal and reproductive health services for all;
e) All hospitals and doctors should prescribe generic names and explain the side effects of the medicine prescribed;
f) Free and safe drinking water in remote rural areas and urban slums.
9) Access to quality government services and infrastructure for all:
a) Make electricity available for minimum 14 hours in rural areas;
b) Good public transport connectivity between rural and urban areas and proper maintenance of highways;
c) Strengthen Public Distribution System (PDS) especially in remote rural areas;
d) Make the process of getting a ration card, Aadhar card, voter card and caste letter simpler and accessible;
e) Decentralised administration of government services and integrated information available for all.
10) Leapfrog environmental degradation and climate change to the same level as political and economic policy:
a) Legislate and enforce an all-powerful Environmental Committee that not only gives permissions but also oversees implementation (prosecutes and acts against violators) on lines of the Election Commission;
b) Mandate water conservation at a micro level - street water harvesting, regulation on usage of ground water - and at a macro level - check river pollution by enforcing laws on industrial and household waste treatment;
c) Ban low-grade plastic;
d) Enforce usage of solar/ renewable energy for all street lighting, public places and government buildings in the country;
e) Cycling lanes in all main roads;
f) Segregation and labelling of bio and non-degradable garbage.
11) Create an environment of dignity and safety for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community and commercial sex workers:
a) Legalize commercial sex work;
b) Create awareness and training (for police and school students) about the transgender community and why we need to give them the same dignity as any other person;
c) Ensure employment opportunities for transgender communities;
d) Provide alternate employment opportunities to sex workers above the age of 40.
e) Decriminalise section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
12) Stem urban migration and make agriculture viable through reforms:
a) Government should provide irrigation facilities, loan at a low interest rate through better implementation of schemes like Kisan Credit Card and awareness regarding technological advancements in farming;
b) Farmers should decide the price of their own harvest (in tandem with the market price);
c) Harvest processing facilities to be made available locally to farmers and easier transport of harvest to wholesale centres.
Some demands have been covered in the BJP manifesto but we do expect the government to not only fulfil what it has promised but to go beyond and look at what it has missed out on. We want development for the nation that does not necessarily replicate the ‘Gujarat development model’ but which is an inclusive model of development that resonates with all.
The demands presented by the youth are inclusive and represent different sections of society and speak of ideas of justice, equality and of well-being that the youth envisions for all sections of society in this country. This is the recognition we want to see from the Government of India.
iAli, S. M., 2013.'Using manifestos to assess political parties', Pakistan: The Express Tribune. http://tribune.com.pk/story/541725/using-manifestos-to-assess-political-parties/ (Last accessed on May 4, 2014)
iiGupta, S., 2014. 'What Does the Youth Want'. One India One People, April, pp. 17-18.
iiiJha, L., 2013. Introducing You To Yourself And The 5th Space In Your Life: The Ocean In A Drop, New Delhi: Youth ki Awaaz.