April 05, 2014

On the Road before E Day

Day 9: Missing manifestos and broken promises

The Trinamool Congress prides itself on its lean, flat management structure and efficiency in decision making. This was evident when the dates of the Lok Sabha elections were announced. Within 48 hours, we had released names of our candidates, the homework having been done days in advance.

Finalising names so quickly was not just an ego trip. It made electoral sense because it gave individual candidates that much more time to travel to their constituencies, familiarise themselves with their voters and get down to hard campaigning. Mamata Banerjee feels political parties owe this – this maximum possible period – to the voter.

In the same vein, Mamatadi has taught us to take manifestos seriously and not treat them as cursory documents that nobody reads. The latter attitude is reminiscent of some other major political parties, which fill their manifestos with hagiographic narratives and impracticable promises. In the 2011 assembly election, Trinamool had released both a manifesto as well as a vision document for West Bengal. This year, we released a national manifesto as well as a state-specific manifesto for the voters of West Bengal. As is apparent, the focus of the two documents is different.

We like to think of ourselves as a rational, scientific party but let me confess to the one Trinamool superstition – it concerns the venue where we release the manifesto. We do this not at Trinamool Bhawan, our national headquarters in east Kolkata, but at Mamatadi’s humble home in Kalighat, south Kolkata. We gather in the one room that has been designated her office space. This is where it all started, and this is where we go back to for inspiration.

This year we released the national manifesto there and also put it up on our website. The manifesto was not verbose and kept simple, presented in point form. Click here to view. Do read it and send feedback.

The West Bengal specific manifesto was released separately. It was a report of what the state government had achieved since coming to office in 2011 and what was in store. The Lok Sabha polls are a sort of mid-term assessment for the Trinamool government and the state manifesto is the report card we have presented the people.

On Sunday, April 6, (unless the T20 final tempts me to do otherwise) I am going to participate in a television discussion on manifestos. I’m afraid I won’t be able to speak about the BJP manifesto because I haven’t been able to read it. It hasn’t even been released. This is absolutely shocking and reflects poorly on the BJP. I wish its army of social media warriors, who specialise in rapid-fire 140-character attacks, could be put to better use to write a manifesto by a reasonable deadline.

The Congress manifesto is before me as I write this. It appears to be a dying declaration, essentially saying: ‘This is what we haven’t done over the past 10 years, but why don’t you give us another five years nevertheless…’ No wonder people are junking the Congress manifesto, as they are the party that has had the temerity to release it.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress