Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Party Manifesto : Promising Milk and Honey

Political party manifestos will never be great literature but they can be great works of fantasy. One that I have been reading states that Kolkata, the city of my birth could soon dazzle like London, if the electors in West Bengal do the right thing and vote the Trinamool Congress into power. So says Mamata Banerjee, and since she is the sole policy maker in the party, her words can be said to be authoritative. Further, Digha, the Bengal coast line, could rival Goa and the North Bengal hills where the Gorkhas agitate temperamentally could wean away tourists from Switzerland. Of course these are the Lok Sabha elections that are looming on the horizon, so how will Trinamool implement these promises without governing the State. No matter, just wait – the Trinamool vision of a resurgent Bengal promises to turn Bengal into a land of milk and honey.

If you are looking for gravitas here in what was said by Mamata Banerjee in the press conference where she released the party’s election manifesto, you won’t get any. But irony is available in plenty: We've great talents (in the state) but the only thing missing here is clear political vision and mission in our ruling Left Front government," she added, while releasing the party's manifesto for the April-May Lok Sabha polls. So we know now – the Left Front doesn’t have any vision for governance – not a wrong vision, not an obsolete vision, but simply no vision. Trinamool on the other hand, possesses the elixir of life and is just waiting spoon in hand to administer it to the hapless people of the state.

Of course one is used to hyperbole at election times. There is that famous one about Bihar’s roads and Hema Malini’s cheeks; that the roads would be as smooth as her cheeks. That statement is usually attributed to Lalu Yadav but he has claimed that it was former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who made these comments.

In the light of all that goes into party manifestos, just how seriously should they be taken? The Congress party manifesto released the other day claims that they had made promises in their manifesto of 2004 and that they have substantially delivered on them. Perhaps they have indeed; though this will always be a matter of debate. but what makes the party manifestoes a little more than a glorified academic document – a mere statement of intent at best or even a journey into fantasy land like the Trinamool wish list ; or the quasi academic document produced by the CPI(M), whose manifesto would not be worth even the paper they printed it on, since even the leadership is not expecting to get numbers in parliament that would allow them to get any where near to implementing it.

Perhaps one day, party or coalition manifestoes would become contractual legally enforceable document and not a statement of intent or even worse an exercise in futile fairy tale writing hoping that out of the dense wordy documents that emerge out of the woodwork, in the election season, some vestige of reality would be visible…. and the dream of visiting Switzerland for the cost of a train ticket in Magmata’s Bengal would be realized. After all, isn’t there a slogan …” hum honge kamyaad ek din…”

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