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The elections in Telangana are fast approaching and if media reports are true, they will be held sometime during November-end or December first week. Political parties while getting ready for the elections are busy drafting their 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 the election manifesto, the voters come to know about the intentions of the political party. It provides an opportunity for the voter to think which party will prove better for them so that they can decide on their choice. In short, it’s a list of promises.

The manifesto needs to be Specific to the needs of people, with Measurable promises that are necessarily Achievable and Realistic so that the promises could be fulfilled in a Time-bound manner. In other words, the election manifesto must necessarily be SMART. But how many parties do it?

Barring a few instances like in the case of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, which wrote the manifesto for the people, obtained their mandate and has been implementing the same as promised before the elections, most political parties fail to do so and this goes unchecked.

Election manifesto

EC Guidelines
Even the Election Commission of India (EC) is unable to impress on political parties not to make tall, unachievable and impractical promises.

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Consequent to consultations with representatives of national and regional parties in August 2013, the EC issued guidelines on manifestos.

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

A meeting with political parties was organised in the wake of Supreme Court judgement directing the EC to frame guidelines on election manifesto as part of model code of conduct. The apex court in its directions referred to the distribution of freebies 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 SC directed the EC to frame guidelines and include it in the model code of conduct. It also stated that there is a need for a separate legislation to be passed by the legislature in this regard for governing political parties in our democratic society. Nothing concrete, however, has happened.

Tamil Nadu Case
There are only very few instances when the EC took objection to the content of a manifesto, as in the case of Tamil Nadu elections in 2016, when notices were issued to the AIADMK and the DMK. This was the first such case and maybe the last too. This was done on the grounds that their election manifestos did not “substantially” fulfil the guidelines.

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

Issuing manifestos is a common practice across countries. If they broadly indicate policies and programmes 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, getting to power at any cost and then remain 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 must be subjected to scrutiny by a competent authority, maybe the EC.

Best Practices
For example, in Bhutan, political parties are required to submit a copy of election manifesto to its election commission before the primary round of Assembly elections. Manifestos are issued to the public only with the approval of the election commission. Its content is largely policies and development plans and programmes, which a party will implement, if elected.

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The country’s election commission thoroughly vets the manifestos and filters out issues with could 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.

In the UK, the electoral authority issues guidelines for campaign materials, which 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 manifestos and largely depend on soundbite summaries that appear in mass media. These manifestos, by a striking coincidence, almost all of them, advocate a prosperous economy, a better deal for young people, for the elderly, farmers, unemployed, and a world-class educational system, affordable housing, higher wages and equal opportunities for all and so on. But very few political parties strictly abide by their manifestos, which should not be the practice. #KhabarLive