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Only On Paper: Can Manifestos Win Elections Alone?

Manifestos alone cannot win an election. A host of other factors come into play

Signs of Fancy: Manifestos hardly affect the voting pattern in any election
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An election manifesto is a document that comes under scrutiny during every election. The promises make headlines; the freebies offered in the manifesto are projected and debated. As per the Election Commission of India, a manifesto is generally defined as a published declaration of the intentions, motives or views of an individual, group, political party or government. A manifesto usually comprises a previously published opinion, and public consensus and promotes a new idea to carry out changes for the future.

Does the election manifesto affect the voting pattern? Maybe, to some extent, it may sound true. However, election manifestos hardly have that much impact, or as much leverage, as they are given when they are released. Despite being fancy, and hopeful with a promise of ushering in a new era, these manifestoes hardly affect the voting pattern to such an extent that they solely can sail the boat for any political party.

In the 2022 UP assembly election, three major parties, Bharatiya Janata Party, Samajwadi Party and Congress, released their manifestos. The Bahujan Samaj Party, however, refrained from releasing an official manifesto. Instead, it highlighted the achievements during its previous tenure in government. The BJP released its Lok Kalyan Sankalp Patra 2022, with the slogan UP fir mange Bhajpa Sarkar. The document carried a message from Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and the then state president of BJP, Swatantra Dev Singh, highlighting it as a vision statement for five years. Its achievements were also prominently mentioned. The document promised free electricity to farmers for irrigation, the development of six mega food parks, and two free LPG cylinders to all the beneficiaries of the Ujjwala scheme. It also promised a free scooty to meritorious college-going girls under the Rani Laxmi Bai scheme; one University in each division; distribution of 2 crore smartphones or tablets; at least 10 years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1 lakh in cases related to love jihad; doubling the per capita income; internet in all villages; gym and sports ground in each gram panchayat; doubling the number of ambulances equipped with life support; dialysis centre in each district, doubling of MBBS seats; and a film city in Noida among many other promises.

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Photo: PTI

The Indian National Congress released its manifesto—Bharti Vidhan Manifesto for the youth and Shakti Vidhan Manifesto for women. It announced that fees would be waived for all examination forms for the youth in the recruitment process and bus and train travel would be free.

The Samajwadi Party had named its manifesto Vachan Patra. It assured to constitute a farmer’s commission. It promised free electricity to up to 300 units to farmers, the initiation of a rural sports league. The 88-page document showcased the achievements of the previous SP regime. The SP also forged an alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal. The Congress coined the slogan Ladki Hoon Lad Sakti Hoon, and it earmarked tickets for females.

The results went in favour of the BJP. It won 255 seats of the 376 seats it contested, thus garnering a vote share of 41.29 per cent. The BSP fared badly as it contested 403 seats and won only one, while the SP contested 347 seats and won 111 seats and the RLD won eight of the 33 seats it contested. Congress contested 399 seats and won just 2 seats.

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Photo: Getty Images

Do election manifestos have any impact? To some extent, election manifestos make headlines during the initial electioneering. The freebies remain on the minds of the electorate. The manifesto of the winning party comes under scrutiny after the particular party wins the polls. Political experts often comment that it was a game changer and it changed the perception. However, the manifesto of the three major parties offered a number of promises. So it will be too harsh to visualise that the election manifesto is the lone factor. Because how else would you expect small outfits such as Apna Dal (Soneylal) to win 12 seats, while parties such as BSP and Congress were completely wiped out? At present, Apna Dal (Soneylal) is the third largest party in the assembly.

Manifestos may be important, but they cannot be termed as the sole decisive document to win an election. In many cases, as the election picks up, it gets drowned in the campaigning. It is only revived when a party wins and the manifesto is dug up to write a piece terming it as the factor for the victory.

The voter’s mind cannot be exclusively influenced by the election manifesto. With such diverse demography and socio-economic conditions, it is hard to believe that a mere document can be the deciding factor. Other factors such as caste, religion and even regional aspirations cannot be ruled out. Some smaller outfits owe their existence to a particular caste and often perform well in some pockets.

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Photo: PTI

Good governance and tight administration also come into play. They are crucial but are only one among many factors. The “development plank” has been used by Samajwadi Party in almost all the elections since 2017, and it lost all of them.

Charismatic leadership and mass appeal contribute a lot during elections. But during electioneering, other issues also crop up. For example, the speeches of leaders are often disseminated and have a far-reaching impact. During the 2022 elections, the leaders campaigned aggressively. But here too, merely holding rallies doesn’t guarantee success. As per media reports, Priyanka Gandhi held nearly 243 rallies, but Congress fared badly.

BJP had a well-groomed organisation and party workers. As reported, PM Narendra Modi addressed 28 rallies, Amit Shah 45, J P Nadda 41, Rajnath Singh 43, and Yogi Adityanath addressed 203 poll rallies. Besides, there were numerous road shows and events. So it helps to hold well-planned and executed events. Some comments from political leaders during events also set the tone, as Yogi Adityanath’s comment that the battle was “between 80 and 20” was well received.

National issues such as Article 370 and terrorism also play a role during elections. Often these national issues outweigh local issues. The double engine terminology of Modi-Yogi contributed its share; claim on tight law and order situation; and, distribution of free foodgrains to people also helped the BJP to ground its opponents.

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Often the battle is about perception. BJP singlehandedly convinced its voters. Its leaders conveyed their message that the party is for everyone, instead of the preferential treatment other parties gave to minorities. So it is hard to conclude that only manifestos can enable a party to win.

(Views expressed are personal)

Faisal Fareed is a senior journalist

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