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UP poll promises: Laptops, jobs, cows and Ram Mandir

Last updated on: February 7, 2012 11:20 IST

UP poll promises: Laptops, jobs, cows and Ram Mandir

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What are the policy directions in which India's political parties are taking its citizens? Studying the manifestos released before the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections helps answer that.

Three of the four major competing parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress, and the Samajwadi Party, have released manifestos. The fourth, the incumbent Bahujan Samaj Party, has always taken a stand against manifestos -- one that reveals its leadership's traditional belief that control over administration and the transfer of the levers of power to the disadvantaged is more important than specific policy proposals.

Most of the discussion of party manifestos in UP has centred around the question of job quotas, or not, for Muslims. However, in some ways, that discussion misses out the major initiatives that political parties have chosen to woo voters -- and thus loses an opportunity to understand the way in which how India's largest, and sadly underdeveloped, state is changing.

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Photographs: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Reuters

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UP poll promises: Laptops, jobs, cows and Ram Mandir

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The Samajwadi Party, for example, has traditionally been seen as a party which has deep-rooted problems with modernity and development. Computers and the English language have been two of its bugbears in the past.

Yet, this time, the party has promised tablet computers to students who pass the tenth-standard examinations, and laptop computers to those who pass the twelfth. The BJP has gone further, adding to the tablet and laptop promise the intention to promote English-language education.

The deep, abiding desire for levers to aid the climb out of unemployability is clearly one that both parties recognise.

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UP poll promises: Laptops, jobs, cows and Ram Mandir

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The Congress, intriguingly, has chosen to take a different tack. Its manifesto does not eschew promises to individuals entirely -- it assures free college education for one member of a household, for example -- but its main focus is, instead, on the creation of industrial jobs.

Infrastructure is to be ramped up, more roads connecting large cities are to be finished, and metros are to be built within them. It is the overall supply of jobs that is the problem, the manifesto seems to argue, not individual capacity to get the jobs on offer.

It appears, therefore, that most major parties share a consensus opinion on what the voters want: jobs and mobility. The way they differentiate themselves otherwise, however, is stark.

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UP poll promises: Laptops, jobs, cows and Ram Mandir

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The SP wants to give Muslim girls Rs 30,000 to get married. The Congress has promised voters below the poverty line free electricity. And the BJP still wants to build a temple in Ayodhya.

Also, it wants everyone to have a cow. Or, at least, every family below the poverty line -- of which there are tens of millions. This might be quite an interesting idea, actually, if not for the spiritual reasons the BJP would give.

A recent programme in Bangladesh and in East Africa that transferred productive assets such as goats or sewing machines to very poor families discovered it was one of the most sustainable and transformative policy interventions possible.

It would be odd, but somehow fitting, if one of the silliest ideas on offer in the UP manifestos was actually one of the smartest.

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