India‘s main opposition Congress party pledged on Tuesday to expand a rural employment guarantee programme, reward businesses for creating jobs and scrap an 1870 sedition law if it wins a general election that starts next week.
In a manifesto released by the party’s president, Rahul Gandhi, Congress highlighted job creation, tackling farm distress and empowerment of women as some of its top priorities.
“The main issues in the country today are unemployment and farmer distress,” said Gandhi, releasing the manifesto. “The economy is jammed, and everyone agrees that India’s economy is stuck, so that needs to be restarted.”
Congress has consistently trailed Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in opinion polls, despite winning three state elections late last year amid farm distress and a jobs shortage.
The economy is jammed, and everyone agrees that India's economy is stuck, so that needs to be restarted
“It is an action plan for the future of India,” Gandhi said, speaking of the manifesto. “Now, it needs your support and your vote.”
He said Congress would expand an existing jobs programme to guarantee 150 days of work a year to rural households, up from 100 days.
Congress also promised to simplify a goods and services tax, quickly fill 2.2 million government jobs nationwide, create one million more on rural and urban development panels, and reward businesses for employment generation.
To halve unemployment in five years
“Over a five-year period, I do think we can bring unemployment down to three percent to four percent,” Praveen Chakravarty, a party official who analyses data, told Reuters.
“We can certainly more than halve the unemployment number in a five-year period.”
On Twitter, the party called the manifesto India’s “new tryst with destiny”, using a famous phrase from a speech made by Rahul’s great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister, on the eve of independence from Britain 67 years ago.
Gandhi said Congress had won voters’ hearts with last week’s plan to hand 72,000 rupees ($1,041) a year to India’s poorest, a promise the BJP has dismissed as a bluff.
The BJP has focused on national security amid fresh hostilities with rival Pakistan, after a February suicide attack that killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Modi’s party came down hard on Congress for its pledge to amend a law that gives special powers to armed forces battling the Kashmir rebellion, in a bid to balance security needs and human rights concerns.
“It wants to deprive them of immunity in what is literally a warzone,” BJP spokesman Amit Malviya said on Twitter. “Not just that, it also suggests that armed forces indulge in sexual violence and torture of civilians.”
Congress, which had accused the government of trying to suppress dissent after the sedition law was recently used against students marking the execution of a Kashmiri rebel, said it would scrap a law it said has been “misused and, in any event, become redundant”.