Congress makes tall promises in Karnataka poll manifesto, but questions on rural distress linger

The Karnataka Congress’ manifesto released by party president Rahul Gandhi on Friday ahead of the Assembly election in Karnataka is no different.

It has showcased its sector-wise achievements, which was obvious, as any party would do the same. Tall promises have been made on what the Congress government would deliver, if re-elected to power.

Let us consider the agriculture sector, where the manifesto says, “INC (Indian National Congress) is dedicated to work towards the overall empowerment of farmers in Karnataka by ensuring improved productivity and income security through climate resilient technologies, value addition and reformed market network to help them achieve their right to a sustainable livelihood.”

The farm sector and agrarian distress is going to emerge as one of the most important deciding factors for the incumbent government to get re-elected in the forthcoming Assembly polls in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

Keeping this in mind, the Karnataka Congress has promised initiatives to improve food processing, packaging, warehousing, cold storage facilities, etc, besides presenting an array of achievements of the current government.

Congress leaders release the party manifesto for the Karnataka polls. The government combated the drought situation efficiently and provided assistance to farmers,” the Karnataka government claimed in the manifesto.

However, if it was all hunky dory in the agriculture sector in Karnataka, the question arises as to why so many farmers’ suicides took place in the last five years.
According to the statistics of the state agriculture department, as many as 3,515 farmers in Karnataka committed suicide between April 2013 and November 2017, out of which 2,525 were due to drought and crop failure.

The Congress party has been up in arms against the ruling BJP governments, whether at the Centre on in the states, on the agrarian crisis. But what about the farmers’ suicides in its own backyard?

Does the Siddaramaiah government have any answer to this?

The answer is probably no. The manifesto does not shed much light on how this crisis, which has emerged on a gigantic scale, would be dealt with. Corporatisation of farm sector is not likely to help.

The manifesto has stated that if re-elected, the Congress government would promote a PPP model to develop agricultural infrastructure.

The document further mentioned that the INC would launch an initiative for developing sustainable agribusiness, enabled through an ‘Agricultural Corridor for Karnataka’ for agriculture and its allied sectors. This will cover production, infrastructure and industrial segments on an end-to-end concept. The corridor will focus on improving production and productivity, reducing production cost and wastage, increasing value addition and price stabilisation.

Despite several of these measures already in place, farmers committed suicide year after year.

It’s high time that any government ought to seriously take a note of farmer grievances. Last year, Madhya Pradesh had witnessed a massive farmers’ agitation that turned into mob violence. Six people were killed due to police firing at Mandsaur district. Mere promises won’t help. The crisis is still simmering.

Another sector that brought Karnataka on the global map is the Information Technology (IT) and software sector. The state, or specifically its capital Bengaluru, became the first IT destination in the country when the sector became a ‘sunrise industry. Besides government efforts, private enterprises played a pivotal role in the success story. The contribution of successive Congress governments can’t be undermined, especially that of SM Krishna, in whose tenure several initiatives were taken to boost the IT sector.

The Congress’ 2018 manifesto promises to “make IT as an important driver of the state economy by increasing IT contribution from the current USD 60 billion to USD 300 billion”.
Isn’t the target too ambitious, given that the size of the state’s annual budget stands at Rs 2.09 lakh crore for 2018-19?

Amit Malviya, the person in charge of BJP’s National Information and Technology Cell, has dubbed it as a lie. Taking to micro-blogging site Twitter, he has stated that ‘$300bn is 9.6 times of the Karnataka state budget, which is approximately S31bn’.

Tall promises are fine, but if not met, they could have a cascading effect on the party’s poll prospects in other elections.

The voters, while taking a note of the promises made in the manifesto, won’t forget to question the government on farmers’ deaths in Karnataka. The voters may also question the government on the deteriorating urban infrastructure, especially in Bengaluru – ‘the Silicon Valley of India’ and the pride of Karnataka.

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