Congress Manifesto 2024 - Socialism is back

Congress has released its manifesto for the 2024 elections. It seems like Congress is taking a hard left by talking about “justice” - social and economic. In a way this seems to be based on their understanding of grassroots and Bharat Jodo Yatra and in many ways its a reaction to the aspirational position of BJP.

The real question how are people feeling? If they are feeling happy and aspirational, then BJP will win (I think middle class feels this). If they are hurting and angry - then Congress has a real chance. Here are some initial thoughts.

The Manifesto

Let’s look at the manifesto

The manifesto seems to be around 5 themes:

  1. Social justice: Equal opportunity for backward castes seems still a long dream. There is sill low representation in government and corporates, specially at a high level. Interesting here is that social justice for minorities religions (specially Muslims) is lacking, but Congress is quiet on it - maybe fearing backlash from the Hindus and they have already been accused of favouring the minorities
  2. Farmer justice: Farm and rural incomes have stagnated - the biggest protest in the history of the country was the farmer protest of 2020-21. Seems like a good idea to back. Most of this is based on redistribution
  3. Youth justice: Youth un-employment is a huge problem - specially in north India where there is a big population bulge. They are promising jobs, mainly created through the central government.
  4. Labour justice: Extending labour benefits to unorganised sector. Expanding MNREGA and health insurance.
  5. Women justice: This one is particularly interesting. 50% reservation for women in Central government. Women have not been particularly targeted as a political group, will be interesting to see how this goes.

Political Strategy

Like I said in the introduction, the Congress has given up on the upper and middle class voters, which probably make 30% of the population, but are apathetic.

Politics is about finding dissatisfaction and representing it. Political entrepreneurs gain power by doing it. BJP found dissatisfaction among the Hindu and upper income voters and harnessed it, Congress is going after the other group.

I think makes for sound political strategy. Every party has to focus on one core message. BJP has taken a strong stand on development, specially infrastructure and “Viksit Bhraat” and the Congress knows that it can’t compete with the BJP there.

My hunch is this election will be a lot closer than the last one. I would really like the Congress alliance to declare Mallikarjun Kharge as the PM candidate. That would make give it a strong fighting chance against the election machinery of the BJP. But their “high command” probably can’t accept anyone other than Rahul Gandhi and in the unlikely chance they win, Mr Gandhi will get to have the last word. Which is fine, because he continues to be the strongest face of the party. A better party would have let Mr Kharge lead.

Who will pay for this?

The natural question is who will pay for this. In this, I am cynical. I think a lot of this will be window-dressing. Money will be taken out of some schemes and put into others. Expansion of neo-liberal capitalism will continue unabashed. Previous Congress governments have been fairly business friendly even though their focus has been on social welfare.

I don’t think it will make a big difference. There are too many infra projects that are already under-way and probably it makes sense to hold our breath (literally as well because of the pollution) and complete some of the projects.

If Congress wins, they will have the suave Raghuram Rajan as the Finance Minister. So middle class need not be worried about the positioning.

Will this make an impact

I continue to be hopeful. I don’t think BJP’s win is as certain as the media wants it to be. Congress has taken a sensible positioning.

The manifesto in my view is a relief as it does not wade into the cultural agenda of the BJP. There is no “soft Hindutva” here. This is hard core socialist and secular and upholds the Constitution much better than the BJP. Now it is to the voters to take a call on whether they want more “development” or take a pause and take stock.

Looking forward to analyse the BJP manifesto as well.


Fwiw this is the full manifesto of congress- in easy to navigate website, in English pdf