The BJP manifesto which was released on Monday after much delay, soul-searching and trimming, reads like a mechanical litany of promises with regard to all sectors and sections, from environment to education, from agriculture to cultural heritage.
It is in the cultural heritage section that the manifesto sprung a surprise by reviving the contentious issue of Ram temple in Ayodhya which is mentioned along with Ram Sethu and Ganga in the fag end of the document (page 41 of the 42-page manifesto). This comes along with the reiteration of the party's commitment to implement the Uniform Civil Code mentioned in the Directive Principles of the Constitution. On the controversial Article 370, which guarantees special status to Jammu & Kashmir, the mainfesto says: " BJP reiterates its stand on Article 370, and will discuss this with all stakeholders and remains committed to the abrogation of this article."
It is not known how these three favourite long-standing contentious issues of the BJP will gel with the NDA's 11 allies. The general feeling is that it was mentioned as a matter of routine and without the earlier chest-tumping gusto and hence, tagged at the end of the document. These were aired in previous manifestos which did not reap the party any benefits. In fact, they boomeranged on them.
The Congress dismissed the manifesto as a "copied document". Congress president Sonia Gandhi said it proved BJP "is a threat to India's integrity and unity".
The question is how much Narendra Modi influenced the preparation of the manifesto. As the PM candidate, he would have wanted his ideas to be incorporated in the party programme, but it is not clear how much time he spent on working out the details. There is the view that it was Modi's team based in Gandhinagar that fleshed out the details, and this could be seen in the Modi idea of high speed rail network. It says: "We will launch Diamond Quadrilateral project - of High Speed Train network (bullet train) ." In ModiMantra on bjp.org it says: "Quadrilateral of Bullet trains will fundamentally alter the way Indians are connected. Laying of new rail lines will spur industrial growth, create new employment, boost rural economy and enhance productivity."
But the rest of the manifesto seems to be a document prepared by the party bureaucracy, which does not show any trace of imagination in its style of presentation and design.
The odd and interesting things included FDI in all sectors except multi-brand retail. More importantly, the manifesto referred to strenghtening of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), of making room for private sector in defence production and allowing FDI in the sector.
The section on foreign policy restated Vajpayee's vision of a cooperative South Asia and there was no mention of either Pakistan or China in it.
The launch of the much-delayed BJP manifesto was a business-like affair early on Monday morning because the top brass – party president Rajnath Singh, PM candidate Narendra Modi and leaders Sushma Swaraj, LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi – had to leave by 11am to address election rallies during the day.
After Joshi's long-winded presentation, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Modi and LK Advani spoke briefly. Arun Jaitley's speech was transmitted via video from Amritsar where he was filing his nomination.
The party president said the promises made in the manifesto will be implemented word-to-word, Modi talked of "pratibaddhata" (commitment) towards what has been said in the manifesto.
It was the personal confession of Modi that stood out. Speaking in a voice turned-hoarse by month-long campaign speeches, he promised that he would not do anything for himself, that he would not do anything with an ill-motive ("iraada") and that he would work hard and unsparingly at the assigned job of being prime minister if he is elected. Then he harped on his usual themesong of good governance and development.
"I will never do anything for myself ever and I will never do anything with wrong intent... I assure you," declared Modi, without elaboration though its meaning was left to varying interpretations.
After the relatively short press briefing, where Joshi answered few question from the reporters, the leaders left. Joshi stayed back to speak with the journalists over tea.
A senior BJP functionary admitted that the manifesto came too late and that it should have been ready a month ago. He said the manifesto committee pored over nearly 100,000 suggestions that came from all over, including NRIs. There was a sense that the manifesto should have been prepared from party inputs and not depend on inputs from members of the public. The leader has also made it clear that the manifesto will not be the government's agenda, and that it merely provides direction.
It will be necessary for the BJP to work out a common programme as new members join the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which will utimately form the government. The party's manifesto will not be NDA's manifesto or governmental agenda. At the moment, the NDA has 11 allies, including the older partners, Shiv Sena and Akali Dal, now joined by Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) in Bihar, Apna Dal (AD) in Uttar Pradesh, Republican Party of India (Athawale) in Maharashtra, Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), Indhiya Jananayaka Katchi (IJK), Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhagam (KMK) in Tamil Nadu, and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Seemandhra and Telangana.