It is again time for election manifestos. Before every Lok Sabha elections, generally preceded by several state elections, political parties come out with their mandatory promises to the electorate. I am not sure how many among the voters read them before voting. Few I suspect, and probably even fewer track their implementation. But it is a time-tested ritual for every party, a ritual which cannot be ignored or denigrated. So we have manifesto committees being set up. And as with any committee with members having their own agendas, every wish gets included in the long wish-list, and every ‘vote bank’ is targeted. As a result we end up with thick manifestos with proliferation of schemes and numerous freebies catering to different sections of our society. Hence, it was with surprise that I read a statement in a newspaper from a leader of one of the national parties that their party's manifesto should be made more focused and shorter, a manifesto which should be read and acted upon rather than launched and forgotten.
I cannot agree more with this sentiment of focusing and simplifying the election manifestos of our political parties. In fact I will go as far as to say that we should focus on a one-point agenda for India—improving the productivity of our people. Everything else follows from it. Productivity is the fundamental lever that drives improvement in the living standards of a society, the overarching objective that I am sure no political party will be opposed to. The biggest lever of productivity is more and better jobs, not more schemes and bigger freebies. I have nothing against schemes and handouts being promised in the manifestos. Every political party in the world does it to favor their supporters. We have to do it to target the really under privileged sections of our society. But in this rush for populism we seem to forget the old Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. Today, unfortunately, the competitive populism among political parties has moved the discourse away from this critical agenda on productivity and employment. The manifestos offer fish to many voters, but do not talk about teaching them how to fish.
Of course, there are other contributors to improving productivity like innovation and new technology or better health and skills of people, but