BJP’s muscular manifesto pushes growth with temple

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Favours FDI in all but multibrand retail, signals moderate taxes

BJP’s muscular manifesto pushes growth with temple
Dubbing the 10-year UPA rule as "a dark decade in governance", BJP on Monday promised to end policy paralysis and corruption, and to get back to the 9 per cent growth, which has now halved. It also assured a cut down on prices, which had more than doubled from 4.5 per cent in 2004 when NDA left office.

The BJP, however, made it clear that it will not allow FDI in multi-brand retail but explore liberalising it in other sectors particularly in defence, infrastructure and other job creating sectors.

Promising to end "tax terrorism" by simplifying and rationalising the tax system besides implementing goods and services tax (GST), the BJP poll manifesto released by manifesto committee chairman Murli Manohar Joshi -- 12 days after the Congress manifesto - did not budge from its core agenda of Ram temple construction at Ayodhya, uniform civil code and abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution giving special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The manifestos of BJP and Congress have many things in common and a few points of serious divergence.

While both seek a broad economic direction, the difference is in BJP's strong opposition to FDI in multi-brand retail.

Politically, the saffron party has decided to broach topics, which were long thought to have gone off the political radar, like its position on Jammu and Kashmir, abrogation of Article 370 and a nuclear no-first use policy.

Mrs Sonia Gandhi during the release of the Congress manifesto had claimed that the UPA had fulfilled "90 percent" of promises made in the 2009 poll manifesto.

The 42-page saffron-coloured document, released in the presence of party patriarch L K Advani and prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, promises to develop 100 new cities with an eye on making India a manufacturing hub, introduce bullet trains to link four metros just as Atal Behari Vajpayee's golden quadrilateral road project, and promote the MSME sector to boost job creation in the country.

Delayed apparently over internal differences on inclusion of Hindutva issues, the BJP manifesto was among the last to be released by political parties as the nine-phased Lok Sabha polls began on Monday. Party president Rajnath Singh and outgoing leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj were also present at the function.

The manifesto pledged to revise India's nuclear doctrine. The manifestdid not divulge details but said that the "no-first-use" policy, introduced after India conducted a series of nuclear tests in 1998, would be reconsidered. Promising to step up investment in urban development, the manifesto said it would implement fiscal discipline, undertake banking reforms, increase public investment in agriculture, create unified farm market by reforming APMC act and improve delivery social schemes.

It also pledged to promote decentralized governance and improve centre-state relationship, reform FCI, cut red tape and simplify procedures to step investment. BJP promised judicial, electoral and administrative reforms to make the governance transparent, efficient and corruption-free. Apart from labour reforms and linking of rivers wherever feasible, the party said it would develop 50 tourism circuits in view of its huge potential for earning foreign exchange. BJP promised to set up a task force to bring back black money, estimated between $500 billion and $1.4 trillion, stashed by Indians abroad.

Modi did not take any questions. When specifically asked about his close confidante Amit Shah's controversial "revenge" remark, he refused to react. Joshi intervened to say that this question did not pertain to the manifesto. When asked about the reported differences within BJP over inclusion of the temple issue in the manifesto, Joshi said, "Whatever is there is there in the manifesto. If you want to write something on the basis of your own perceptions, you are free to do that".

To a query if the party was trying to confuse voters by raking up Hindutva issues including Ram Temple while projecting governance and development, he said, "This has nothing to do with Hindutva or athva (otherwise). This is only a promise of development programme." Marking his point of difference with the Congress, Joshi said Hindutva has never been an election issue and the manifesto was based on issues of development and governance. "We have put it in the section on "cultural heritage". What is culturally important for us we have said."

The manifesto said the country has suffered a decade of mal-administration and scams besides indecision and policy paralysis under UPA and this situation will be changed, the engine of government ignited again with strong will power and commitment to public interest.

"We will establish a system which will eliminate the scope of corruption through public awareness, technology enabled e-governance, system-based policy-driven governance, rationalisation and simplification of the tax regime and simplification of the process and procedures at all levels," the manifesto said. It promised to provide a non-adversarial, conducive tax environmentand overhaul the dispute resolution mechanisms.

The BJP promised to set up a price stabilisation fund to check inflation. Talking about economic freedom, the manifesto said government would not get in the way of the freedom of individuals to start and operate legitimate businesses.

"The BJP manifesto outlines multiple measures for inclusive development, with focus on governance, growth and employment. These are arguably the key concerns facing the economy today", said Ficci president Siddharth Birla.

"Besides an investment friendliness, we welcome the openness to FDI linked to creation of assets and employment. Though we feel disappointment on the stand on FDI in multi-brand retail, we hold out hope for a possible review in the future", Birla said. Political parties slammed BJP manifesto saying it aimed to hoodwink voters by harping on Ram temple and other 'Hindutva' issues. While Congress leader Digvijay Singh accused BJP of exploiting religion for political gains, Left parties said the mention of Ram Temple in manifesto was intended to "consolidate" Hindu votes.

Attacking the BJP over including the Ram Mandir and Section 370, AAP said the saffron party's true agenda was to promote "communal and divisive policies" while its development plank was nothing but a "farce".

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