NEW DELHI— India’s ruling Congress party has promised inclusive growth and unveiled a raft of anti-poverty policies as it seeks to woo voters in general elections starting April 7. As polls forecast major losses for the Congress party, its top leader, Rahul Gandhi, has mounted a sharp attack on the party’s main opponent.
A right to health care and housing, pensions for the elderly and disabled and the creation of 100 million new jobs are among the measures India's ruling Congress party promised as it unveiled its election manifesto in New Delhi Wednesday.
Hurt by public anger over a series of corruption scandals and high inflation, polls have forecast that the party will be unable to win a third term in office in elections starting next month.
Seeking to wrest back the initiative from its main rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress is focusing on programs to woo the poor, who make up the bulk of the country’s 814-million electorate and the party's core constituency. The Congress Party calls its manifesto “Your Voice, Our Pledge.”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said his party will revive the declining economy and its manufacturing sector to lift millions of people out of poverty. “Growth by itself is not sufficient to achieve the solid results of an inclusive growth process. It needs to be backed by adequate concern about education, about health, about the needs of our women, scheduled castes, and scheduled tribes,” he said.
Disillusioned by the Congress Party, which is being blamed for the plummeting economy, most business leaders are backing the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP’s main focus has been on the need for more development, jobs and investment in India.
But the incumbent party is promising to balance the interests of both big business and the poor. Rahul Gandhi is leading Congress' electoral campaign.
“The only way India is going to move forward is with a partnership that includes the poor, that includes the dispossessed and includes business. If you try to construct a government model that focuses only on business or only on the poor you will not take India forward,” Gandhi said.
The ruling Congress Party is also pledging to be more inclusive than its main opposition. Congress President Sonia Gandhi said the upcoming elections are not just about economic and social programs, but her party’s fight to keep India’s secular fabric intact.
The comments directly target the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Modi’s critics question his commitment to secularism and accuse of him of not doing enough to stop riots which killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, in his Gujarat state in 2002.
Congress party vice president Rahul Gandhi said that Modi represents a vision that is “exclusionary” and will harm the country as it pits one against another. “The issue here is an ideology and it is an ideology that is basically questioning the fundamentals of what this country stands for. It is basically questioning the idea of this country. That is why I am against him," he stated. "The real issue is the dangers represented by the ideology.”
The BJP dismisses the Congress Party’s criticism and says such fears are meant to woo Muslim votes. While the BJP is not forecast to win an outright majority in parliament, it is expected to unseat the Congress party.
A confident Gandhi however dismissed polls forecasting major losses for his party and said Wednesday that election results will surprise everyone.
The five-week poll will continue until May 12. Votes will be counted on May 16.