India's election: What the manifestos missed out

Despite learning a bitter lesson from Covid-19, our governments, whether at the state or national level, have failed to recognise the importance of ensuring trouble-free access to public health.

Dr. P. Madhava Rao May 07, 2024
Representational Photo

Political parties have a history of promising a slew of benefits to voters during elections and then forgetting about them afterward. The competing parties devote a significant amount of time, money, intelligence, and energy to developing and disseminating manifestos with persuasive language and appealing individual-centric programmes. The manifestos designed and distributed for the 18th Lok Sabha elections by all major contesting political parties also made appealing offers to the electorate, touching on political, economic, social, cultural, and religious sentiments and aspects of their lives. All political parties, however, conveniently forgot to include many issues that voters have long wished to have addressed or resolved.

Public needs such as the exclusion of the employed class and pensioners from the income tax purview, social protection pensions to all the working class without a wage ceiling, cardless and cashless medical treatment to every citizen, phased nationalisation of healthcare services, and basic package of health services at every village, free education to anyone at any place, application of the compulsory provident fund act to the informal sector workers, abolition of toll-tax when lifetime road tax has already been paid by the motor vehicle owners for they believe that failing to pay tolls restricts a citizen's right to free movement as guaranteed by the Indian constitution.  

Rationalising salaries 

Other expectations from the manifestos include a uniform and rationalised GST rate on all goods and services, including previously excluded goods and services such as petrol, diesel, and spirits; integrating MGNREGA with agricultural activities to generate year-round guaranteed employment in rural areas; citizen-friendly law and order, and rural road development with central support are among the demands made by everyone in the country. 

Increasing the number of members of parliament from the current 543 to at least 2200, taking into account the growth of voters from 170 million in the first general elections in 1951-52 to nearly 980 million crore in the 18th general elections in 2024.   None of the political parties mentioned these public requirements and instead began mudslinging at each other.

There is a long-standing argument that salary does not meet the actual definition of income. It is a wage paid by the employer for the services provided. The earner has no control over the amount of wage; it is the price paid for the service. On the other hand, income is defined as the rent on an investment, whereas pension is defined as the provision of care for individuals until their death. Nonetheless, the income tax collected, according to the income tax department data, from the salaried individuals and pensioners is not more than four percent of total budgetary revenues of 42 lakh crore rupees during the fiscal year 2022-2023, whereas in the income tax collected from the individuals stand at 8.33 lakh crore, amounting to roughly 19 percent of total revenues, and the tax from pensioners and salaried individuals does not exceed a meagre four percent of total revenue. People do not understand why the government is chasing these peanuts while providing sleepless nights to salaried workers and pensioners. This issue has not been addressed by any political party.

Universal healthcare

The second most sought-after assurance in the manifestos was the elimination of the wage ceiling for provident fund and pension contributions. The current salary limit for contribution is Rs. 15,000 per month plunges a person into poverty after retirement, as evidenced by data showing that as of 30 June 2019, approximately 6.5 million pensioners are receiving an average monthly pension of Rs1170 rupees from the Employees Provident Fund Organisation. This is due to the wage cap for contributions. Employees demand the removal of the wage ceiling. 

Universal healthcare is another major expectation in the manifestos of political parties seeking to win and serve the public. Despite learning a bitter lesson from Covid-19, our governments, whether at the state or national level, have failed to recognise the importance of ensuring trouble-free access to public health. Hospitals are more commercialised in post-covid India than they were previously, and the issue of deaths due to a lack of access to health care should not be overemphasised.

Public expectations, such as converting the state to a full federal state through constitutional amendments, increasing the number of MP seats, and so on, may have political consequences for both the winning and losing parties. However, excluding pensioners and the salaried class from the income tax net, removing the wage ceiling on provident fund contributions, eliminating toll tax, integrating MGNREGA with agricultural activities, and reviving the Planning Commission may not have political implications and can be included in manifestos at least now, better late than never.

(The author is a former International Senior Advisor, United Nations. Views are personal. He can be contacted at )

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