The elections in Telangana are fast approaching and, if the media reports are true, they will be held sometime during November end or December first week of this year. Every political party while getting ready with its guns are busy drafting manifestos. An election manifesto is a written platform, an assertive design, a plan, a strategy, an approach, and philosophy of a political party outlining its aims and objectives.

It contains declaration of its ideology, intentions, views, policies and programmes explaining what it will do if it wins the elections and comes to power. Through election manifesto, the voters come to know about the political party. It provides an opportunity to the voter to think of which party will prove the better for them so that they can decide on their choice. It’s nothing but a complete list of promises.

The manifesto shall be Specific to the needs of people, with Measurable promises that are necessarily to be Achievable and Realistic so that the promises could be fulfilled in a Time-Bound manner. In other words, the election manifesto shall necessarily be a SMART one. How many parties take note of this is a million dollar question.

Unfortunately, barring few instances, like in the case of Telangana Rashtra Samithi, which completely fulfilled the election promises made in its 2014 manifesto and even went beyond it, most political parties fail to do so and this goes unchecked. At a time when election manifestoes are generally forgotten after elections are over, it is not so with the present KCR Telangana Government.

It is obviously so because the Chief Minister keeps the manifesto, like a holy book on his table for sustained inspiration. KChandrashekhar Rao fought for Telangana State; got it; wrote the manifesto for its people, obtained their mandate and has been implementing the same, as promised before elections and in toto which normally very few parties do. It goes without saying that the same will happen again.

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It is unfortunate that, even the most powerful Constitutional Body like the Election Commission of India, which has enormous constitutional guarantees, until recently, and to that matter even till now also, is not in a position to impress on the parties, not to resort to unfulfilled and impracticable promises misleading the electorate.

Consequent to consultations with representatives of national and regional parties sometime during August 2013, the Election Commission of India issued some namesake instructions and guidelines to parties on manifestos. EC issuing guidelines said that, “In the interest of transparency, level-playing field and credibility of promises, it is expected that manifestos also reflect the rationale for promises and broadly indicate the ways and means to meet the financial requirements for it. Trust of voters should be sought only on those promises which are possible to be fulfilled.”

EC also said poll manifestos “should not have anything repugnant” or anything that ran against the ideals of the Constitution.

Meeting with political parties was organised in the wake of the Supreme Court Judgement few days prior to the meet, directing the EC to frame guidelines on election manifesto as part of model code of conduct. Supreme Court in its directions referred to the distribution of freebies of some kind or other as a promise in the manifesto amounting to influencing people. It observed that it shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree.

The Apex Court directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines and include in the model code of conduct. Apex Court also expressed the view that there is a need for a separate legislation to be passed by the legislature in this regard for governing the political parties in our democratic society. Nothing concrete, however, did happen in spite of all this.

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There were only negligible instances when Election Commission took objection to content of a manifesto, as happened in the case of Tamil Nadu Elections in 2016, when notices were issued to AIADMK and DMK which was the first such ever and may be the last also. This was done on the grounds that their election manifestos do not “substantially” fulfil the guidelines.

In the notice, the EC asked them to explain their stand on non-compliance of the guidelines of the Commission and also reflect the rationale for the promises made in their manifestos and broadly indicate the ways and means to meet the financial requirement for the same. This should be a regular affair.

Issuing manifestos is a common practice all over the globe. If they broadly indicate policies and programs of the political party, no one will have any objection. If they depict copious, unfeasible and unethical promises with the sole purpose of misleading the voter eying on the power and later unmindful of those promises it certainly needs to be checked.

If any political party fails to fulfil its election promises made in earlier elections though they won the election and were in power, it should be penalised. In every subsequent election its manifesto shall be subjected to scrutiny by a competent authority maybe the Election Commission.

For example in Bhutan, political parties are required to submit a copy of election manifesto to the Election Commission before primary round of Assembly Elections. Manifestos are issued to the public only with the approval of the Election Commission. Content is largely policies and development plans and programmes which a party will implement, if elected. Election Commission thoroughly vets the election manifestos and filters out issues with potential to undermine the security and stability of the nation. Further, manifestos cannot contain anything that seeks electoral gains by campaigning on the ground of religion, ethnicity, region, prerogatives of the King and the State, national identity etc.

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In UK the Electoral authority issues guidelines for campaign materials which would apply to manifestos also. The launch of a party’s manifesto is among the most critical moments in a British general election campaign. Manifestos establish the agenda for government that the party will pursue in office. They have a quasi-constitutional authority in the British political system. The Salisbury Convention which is a constitutional convention in the United Kingdom conditions that the House of Lords will not oppose the second or third reading of any government legislation promised in its election manifesto. Such is the power of a manifesto.

In any case very few people tend to read the political party manifesto and largely depend on sound-bite summaries that appear in the mass media. The election’s manifestos, by a striking coincidence, almost all of them, advocate a prosperous economy, a better deal for young people, a better deal for old people, a better deal for farmers, unemployed, a world-class educational system, affordable housing, higher wages for everybody and equal opportunities for all and so on. Very few political parties strictly abide by its manifesto which should not be the practice. #KhabarLive