Friday, January 3, 2014


Indian parties use social media to draft poll manifestos

Khaleej Times (March 7, 2014)

It is often claimed that political parties in India never take their election manifestos seriously. Manifestos, it is said, make for dull reading as parties generally refrain from providing specific details or solutions on crucial issues out of fear that these might provide ammunition to the opposition or the press in targeting the stated policies.

Again, manifestos are generally published just a few weeks or days before the elections. The intent is to
avoid giving the detractors enough time to widely criticise the vision, goals and policies of a party. Therefore, manifestos are viewed by parties largely as a formal democratic custom and at best a public relations exercise to project political personalities at the expense of clear policies and programmes. Thus, it is not surprising that hardly any political party has so far released its manifesto for the Indian general elections of 2014.

However, political parties are viewing the drafting of their manifestos a little differently this time. Hiding their ineptitude in gauging a restive public sentiment, most parties are now soliciting the voters themselves (particularly the young) in writing the manifestos through social media websites. Perhaps, many parties have understood that in upcoming elections, manifestos would be read by a wider audience in the country — thanks to greater Internet accessibility — and would play a more important role in determining a party’s prospects than in earlier elections.

Thus, under the slogan ‘Your Voice Our Pledge’ the Indian National Congress is asking its supporters to “voice your ideas for the Congress Party’s 2014 Lok Sabha Election Manifesto” on a dedicated web site. Even more forthcoming is the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), which has a web site titled ‘BJP Manifesto 2014’ and a Facebook page named ‘BJP Election Manifesto’.  The description on the Facebook account reads: “Election manifesto is an important document that defines the policies of the nation for the next government. BJP has started the work on its manifesto for the next general elections. Being a party of grass roots, where anyone can voice his (sic) opinion, you have a once in a lifetime opportunity to get your viewpoint across… ”

The Aam Aadmi Party that claims it was more effective than any other party in its social media campaign during its successful bid in the New Delhi elections is gearing up for its social media campaign during the nation-wide elections and is setting up online pages in various regions of the country for this purpose. Again, it has sought the help of various economists, environmentalists, industry leaders and policymakers to prepare its national manifesto, which is scheduled to be published in late March.

This ‘online manifesto campaign’ by the major political parties cannot be dismissed as merely an election gimmick. The enormity of the crises facing the country and the growing public disaffection with the political system has underscored the need for a major systemic overhaul in various spheres of governance. This would entail a collective rethink and the formulation of new policies that would necessitate greater public support and acceptance. Most political parties are realising the magnitude of the challenges ahead and hence are reaching out to the public for solutions. The trendy information technology is also obviously helping them in their election campaigns all the same.

The problems facing India today are not limited to the supposed ‘endemic corruption’ or a faltering economy. In addition to the burgeoning fiscal and current account deficits, the country needs a fresh approach in centre-state relations, defence policy, foreign affairs, public administration, revenues and taxation, infrastructure development, energy and agriculture, education, law and order and so on. These problems can be resolved through greater public discourse and participation.  Perhaps the public formulation of manifestos by political parties could be taken to a higher level by developing a more broad-based national manifesto. This could be the first step toward transforming India from a representative democracy to a more participative democracy — a governance determined more by policy than personalities, by leadership than by crises.

No comments:

Post a Comment