The Indian National Congress has promised to bring back 8% growth within the next three years if voted back to power.
Releasing the party manifesto for the forthcoming Lok Sabha election on Wednesday (March 26), Congress President Sonia Gandhi affirmed that the aspirations of party's vice president, Rahul Gandhi were reflected in the 50-page document.
The Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Prime Ministerial hopeful, Narendra Modi has been repeatedly attacking the government for having failed to provide 24X7 electricity to all its citizens. Responding to the criticism, the manifesto says the party will ensure that all households in urban areas and 90 per cent of households in rural areas will get uninterrupted power if the Congress is voted back again. (Currently, 94% of urban homes and 67% of rural ones do.) The manifesto also promises that the quality and quantity of power supplied, especially to the rural areas, will improve.
It promises as well to link all the 25 Indian cities with population above one million plus cities with high-speed trains.
The document also maintains the party will provide the Right to Health, the Right to Homestead, the Right to Pension, the Right to Entrepreneurship, the Right to Dignity at the Workplace and the Right to social security to all citizens. This will call for considerable expenditure.
Apart from ensuring high growth, the manifesto also promises fiscal reform. It speaks of bringing down the fiscal deficit to 3% by 2016/17. The party will amend the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act to codify the government's commitment to this. It says the Congress intends to form a National Fiscal Responsibility Council, whose reports will be table in Parliament. To reduce the current account deficit, the party proposes to set up more export oriented units, with low taxation.
"There should be a minimum tariff protection so that there is an incentive to manufacture goods in India rather than import them into India," the manifesto says. The Congress is also promising to focus heavily on manufacturing, and sees it contributing 25% of India's GDP. (It currently contributes around 15%). "Manufacturing means more jobs and more demand generation in allied sectors," says a Congress leader.
Rahul Gandhi added that the party was committed to making the economy robust and empowering the poor.
Comparing the rule of UPA with that of the principal opposition alliance the NDA, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh noted that between 1999-2004, the BJP-led NDA government had delivered just 6% per cent growth on average, while the UPA in its first term, delivered 8.4 per cent and in its second 7.3 per cent growth.
Gandhi also maintained that during the 10 years of the UPA's regime, roughly 160 million people were lifted out of poverty.
The party reaffirmed its commitment to clearing the roadblocks in the passage of the uniform Goods and Services Tax and the Direct Tax Code. The manifesto said that if the UPA came to power, both these would be passed within a year. Other promises included instituting a national investment facilitation authority, with a separate secretariat which would be headed by the Prime Minister. This would in effect be a different version of the Cabinet Committee on Investment.
The Opposition, not surprisingly, remained unimpressed. "They promise eight per cent-plus growth in the manifesto... while the growth rate is 4.6 per cent. Can there be a greater fraud?" said Ravi Shankar Prasad, BJP leader.
So too it called the figures relating to people being lifted out of poverty "statistical jugglery", based on a controversial definition of who was poor.