After delivering the right to information, right to food, to education and to employment in rural areas, the Congress is now hoping to lure voters by extending rights to water, housing, sanitation, health, and job reservations for members of scheduled caste (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST).
The Congress is expected to enumerate these rights-based legislations in its manifesto. The manifesto team, which includes Union minister Jairam Ramesh and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi's confidante Mohan Gopal, an academic, is busy giving finishing touches to the manifesto to ensure that the party does not violate the Election Commission's guideline of not including "populist" or "unrealistic" promises.
Although defence minister AK Antony heads the All India Congress Committee's manifesto committee, in reality, Ramesh and Gopal have been calling the shots by interacting with state leaders and a cross-section of society to finalise its draft manifesto. Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad's services were enlisted to finalise a plan for the right to health. Azad has been working overtime this past fortnight to work out a scheme to give every citizen a right to health services that will involve establishing a large number of new hospitals and churn out a large number of doctors. A medical college in every district is also part of the plan. He had been advised specifically to look into the mechanism and financial commitments of these schemes to conform to the Election Commission's guidelines.
Eyeing SC/ST votes, the manifesto promises is expected to include affirmative action for SCs/STs in the private sector. Over the past 10 years, the UPA government pursued a voluntary policy of providing incentives to employers to increase the percentage of marginalised sections of society. The draft manifesto will promise a legislation to have a mandatory quota for them in the private sector.
A document prepared in this regard by the Congress party's SC cell chairman K Raju, who quit the IAS cadre last year, shows that the single biggest demand of all SCs has been a law to provide them job reservations in the private sector. The document notes that a large number of SC youths are graduating under the UPA's scholarship schemes but are unable to secure jobs. Raju, a key member of Rahul's team, has suggested that this right to employment should apply to companies that have more than 1,000 employees or have an investment of at least Rs 1,000 crore so as to spare small businesses and traders. The manifesto proposes to incorporate incentives and disincentives to private firms to incorporate diversity besides merit, while selecting people for jobs.
Another significant promise is the right to housing. While the UPA government initiated programmes to allocate land and grant funds to the rural poor to build their own houses, the right to housing will give every homeless family a claim to a house as their right. Another promise is the right to toilets and sanitation, keeping in mind that more than half of India's 120 crore people do not have a toilet in their homes.
Other promises include the setting up of a "Regulatory Reform Taskforce" to review "all regulatory processes of Central government ministries to improve business climate in India. There is also a first 100-day agenda for growth that includes the setting up of Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission and announcing a "detailed jobs agenda" to create "100 million new jobs for the youth by 2020.