x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Congress unveils its masterplan to win election

The Congress manifesto for elections beginning April 7 focuses on imoriving India’s decrepit infrastructure and pledges to return the economy to eight per cent growth within three years along with providing 100 million young people with the skills needed for employment within five years.

NEW DELHI // India’s floundering ruling Congress party on Wednesday announced plans to create millions of jobs for the poor and revive the slumping economy in a last-ditch effort to stave off defeat at national elections.

As Congress officially unveiled its priorities, media reports revealed that the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), would welcome more foreign direct investment in defence but delay opening up retail to global players now barred from the country’s market.

The BJP is ahead in opinion polls and is expected to announce its electoral agenda next week.

The Congress manifesto for elections beginning April 7 focuses on India’s decrepit infrastructure, roads and railways.

Congress frontman Rahul Gandhi, 43, said US$1 trillion (Dh3.67 trillion) would be set aside for this purpose.

In front of several hundred Congress faithful, an upbeat Mr Gandhi vowed to confound pollsters’ predictions that Congress was set for a humiliating defeat to the Hindu nationalist opposition after a decade in power.

“We are going to construct a manufacturing backbone that will give millions of millions of people jobs,” Mr Gandhi told the gathering at the party’s headquarters in the capital New Delhi.

Outgoing prime minister Manmohan Singh, 81, said the next Congress government would be free of corruption, amid seething anger among voters over a string of graft scandals that has embroiled his administration.

Mr Singh defended his Congress-led government’s record since it was first elected in 2004, saying 140 million people had been pulled out of poverty.

But Mr Singh and Mr Gandhi conceded much more needed to be done to overcome still endemic poverty for tens of millions and reform the business environment to revive the economy running at a decade low of 4.7 per cent.

The 48-page manifesto pledged to return the economy to eight per cent growth within three years and provide 100 million young people with the skills needed for employment within five years.

Congress also focused on its traditional welfare policies for the poor, saying millions would be given access to affordable medical care and housing, while all Indians would have a bank account within five years.

Opinion polls show Congress could lose more than half of its seats in the Lok Sabha lower house of parliament when results are announced on May 16.

Congress party president Sonia Gandhi put on a brave face, saying she was confident of winning the elections.

“Opinion polls? I frankly must admit I don’t have much faith in them because they have been proved wrong again and again,” said the Italian-born party matriarch who is Rahul’s mother.

The BJP and its hardline candidate for prime minister Narendra Modi are widely expected to come to power over Congress, albeit with the help of small regional parties.

BJP sources said its manifesto would set aspirational goals of creating 250 million jobs over the next decade, building up to 100 ‘smart’ cities and constructing a high-speed rail network.

“The manifesto’s priorities, in this order, are jobs, investment, manufacturing and infrastructure,” said one BJP official involved in drafting the documents.

While the BJP platform seeks to tap into the hopes of 100 million first-time voters whose job prospects have been hurt by a slowdown in economic growth, the tenets of ‘Modinomics’ remain nebulous.

The BJP’s policy platform takes a cautious stance towards opening up the economy to foreign direct investment.

There will be no quick move to allow the likes of Wal-Mart or Tesco to enter so-called ‘multi-brand’ retail, which would pose an existential threat to small traders who form a key BJP constituency.

“The domestic retail industry needs to be first made competitive before allowing foreign investment,” a second BJP source said.

However, the BJP would propose raising a cap on foreign ownership of Indian defence industry enterprises to 49 per cent from 26 per cent now.

Agence France-Presse and Reuters