With 2019 Lok Sabha elections only days away, the two national rival political parties, BJP and Congress both have now released their manifestos. A manifesto is ideally meant to be a glimpse into the soul of the party and how they propose to govern a billion people should the country choose to put their faith in them. While Manifestos have traditionally been boring documents that have been tossed aside as a mere formality for all these decades, with two manifestos this election have gained much significance and provide a window in how the two parties aim to run the country.
While promises concerning farmers and the poor strata of the country are a matter of economics, one would imagine that on National Security issues, the two parties would invariably see eye to eye, however, that is not the case. The two manifestos chart out two widely varying paths that the two parties plan on taking with respect to National Security should they be elected to power.
What BJP promises
1. BJP promises to continue its ‘Zero tolerance policy’ when it comes to terrorism and extremism. It alludes to the Surgical Strikes and the Balakot Airstrikes to reiterate that it would continue to give a free hand to security forces.
2. An extremely important promise made by the BJP is to speed up the purchases of outstanding defence-related equipment and weapons.
3. Self-reliance when it comes to defence equipment is the BJP’s third promise as far as national security is concerned. It aims to strengthen indigenous manufacturing capabilities of India.
4. The BJP promises to focus on resettlement of soldiers and says that the Armed Forces would start working on a resettlement plan for soldiers 3 years before they are set to retire. This will include provision for skills training, so skills training, financial support for higher education, for housing and for starting an enterprise.
5. Modernisation of Central Armed Police Forces and assisting states in the process of modernisation of police forces.
6. Enforcement of National Registry for Citizens in a phased manner. Interestingly, BJP makes a reference to the demographic change that has been forced upon some areas due to illegal immigration. This is a point that has been the pet grouse of its support base for a long time.
7. Smart Fencing to check illegal infiltration on all borders.
8. The manifesto says “We have completed building six integrated check-posts with another under construction to facilitate easier trade and travel from the neighbouring countries. We will further ease the movement of goods and people by constructing 14 more integrated check-posts by 2024. Aer completion of all the proposed integrated check-posts, all trade movement with Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan will be conducted through the integrated check-posts”.
9. Establishment of National Committee for Strengthening Maritime & Coastal Security, Island Information System and National Academy of Coastal Policing, we will continue to take steps for ensuring the security of India’s long coastline.
10. Implementation of Citizen’s Amendment Bill that would grant citizenship to persecuted minorities from neighbouring states. The manifesto says: “We reiterate our commitment to protect the linguistic, cultural and social identity of the people of Northeast. Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs escaping persecution from India’s neighbouring countries will be given citizenship in India”.
11. Eradication of Left Wing Terrorism.
12. Abrogation of Article 370.
13. Commitment for the annulment of Article 35A of the Constitution of India as the provision is discriminatory against non-permanent residents and women of Jammu and Kashmir. We believe that Article 35A is an obstacle in the development of the state.
14. Ensure the safe return of Kashmiri Pandits
15. Provide financial assistance for the resettlement of refugees from West Pakistan, Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK) and Chhamb.
How are the Congress and BJP manifestos different?
While the BJP manifesto makes no fantastical promises and the Congress manifesto promises several things that the BJP manifesto includes as well, there are certain fundamental differences that make the Congress manifesto worrisome for India.
First and foremost worrisome aspect is how Congress has promised the dilute AFSPA and ensure that the presence of security forces are reduced in the Kashmir Valley. While in their manifesto, they have tried to take a tough stand on internal security, it is intriguing that with this one move, most of the internal security issues would resurface as the terrorists would find their foothold in the valley yet again. The Congress in its manifesto also says that it would balance “human rights” and “security” and ensure that the Army doesn’t torture, forced disappearances and indulge in sexual violence with impunity. The Congress has thus ensured that the effect of AFSPA is reduced in a disturbed area like Kashmir and pandered to the Left that wants the Army out of Kashmir. It has also effectively signalled to the enemies of the state that their motivated and patently false narrative of Army brutality in Kashmir would find resonance with Congress, should they be voted to power again.
Interestingly, Congress also says that it would be willing to talk to “all stakeholders” in Kashmir without any pre-conditions. One can only assume that this would also include separatists and the Hurriyat thereby granting them the legitimacy all over again that has been denied by the Modi government in the last 5 years.
The Congress party manifesto makes another extremely disturbing promise. It says that they will ensure that the National Security Advisor is answerable to the Parliament. The role of the National security advisor is that of paramount importance and secrecy. To make the NSA answerable to all politicians alike would be a severe breach of secrecy with elements gaining access to information that under no circumstances should be available to them. Congress has yet again pandered to forces that expect India to go soft on enemy action simply because it suits a particular narrative implying that the NSA is too liable for imaginary “excesses”.
While both Congress and BJP in their manifestos talk about strengthening the armed forces, interestingly, the Congress party, pandering to its empty rhetoric and political ambitions talks about reviewing the Rafale deal. It would be pertinent to remind readers here that the Rafale deal was given a clean chit by the Supreme Court and the Congress party has been unable to prove any of their allegations. OpIndia itself reported how the Rafale deal may be getting sabotaged due to lobbying by Eurofighter with the Congress government and the Gandhi family itself. This, thus, begs the question of whether the Congress party is really thinking of national security or personal gains with this promise being included in the manifesto.
While the Congress party shows immense disregard for minorities of the neighbouring countries facing persecution by promising the withdraw the Citizenship Amendment Bill, it also makes no reference of NRC (National Registry of Citizenship) in its manifesto. The Congress manifesto also makes no promises to ensure that illegal immigrants are weeded out from the Indian society and that illegal Bangladeshis are sent back. In fact, Congress goes a step further almost promising the ensure that illegal Bangladeshis and others are made citizens of the country.
The Congress manifesto is at best vague and at worst sinister when it comes to the NRC and that of weeding out the illegal population from India. The only people who would be “left out of NRC” would be people who can’t prove their citizenship. By saying they will ensure “No Indian Citizen” is left out, Congress is either reiterating the obvious or alluding to the fact that they would even be sympathetic towards the people who claim to be citizens but cannot prove their citizenship. Also, the fact that Congress mentions how they would “secure the identity of the indigenous communities” with respect to illegal immigration, leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
Interestingly, while Congress seems to be moving heaven and earth to pander to a certain section of minorities in their manifesto, their promises have failed to include the Kashmiri Pandits who are perhaps the greatest testament to India’s failure on internal security. The BJP manifesto promises rehabilitation while the Congress manifesto focuses on protesting those who destabilise the country by screaming “Bharat Tere Tukde Honge” and the repeal of sedition laws.
Essentially, the Congress manifesto, while including some essential points on National Security, it makes certain other points that are bound to contribute to the Balkanisation of India and be severely detrimental to National Security. The BJP manifesto focuses on the continuity of their policies thus far a promise to fulfil the promises they failed to deliver on in the past 5 years. The Congress, on the other hand, has chosen to pander to elements who would much rather see India disintegrate violently into bits and pieces.
BJP has chosen to stick to its muscular policy and cultural nationalism in its manifesto, while the Congress party has in part, decided to pander to the ‘tukde tukde’ gang. Which manifesto resonates with the country remains to be seen.