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BENGAL is exactly a fortnight away from the first phase of Assembly elections, and has already spent a few weeks into electioneering.

Yet, it is for the first time, that the Opposition parties cutting across the Left to the Right-wing ones, have till now failed to offer an election manifesto to the voters.

CPI-M has put up a draft of its proposed manifesto on the party website inviting opinion and suggestion from the people before the manifesto is finalised. This is an interesting way to engage with voters, albeit it is an idea copied from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

But any more delay in releasing final manifesto would manifest the Red party’s lack of attaching importance to the exercise and that will be regressive development for a regimented force that has ruled Bengal for over three decades.

Saffron leaders tell that BJP was ready with a manifesto a few days ago, yet for reasons best known to their strategists, the party has withheld making it public. Meanwhile, its second list of candidates is out.

The third contender from the Opposition camp, Congress is too busy to spare time for the manifesto, which it began drafting only last week. The grand old party is more into thrashing the seat sharing differences with the Left Front and finalising the list of candidate’s list.

And all the three major Opposition parties are all fighting against the Trinamool Congress, which look more organised. It announced the full candidate list on 01 March the very day the polls were announced by the Election Commission. On 04 March, it released a manifesto spread over no less than 144 pages.  

Trinamool manifesto is a first-of-its-kind, exhibiting the confidence that Bengal “has transformed into a peace of heaven” where the party in power can offer the voters a manifesto containing bright poetry. It’s another point that Trinamool could have got hold of better poets, to offer all a genuine piece of creativity in correct metre ~ in original or translation.

This first Assembly poll manifesto of Trinamool-in-power is full of claims that are already under the scanner of the media. Its claims on employment creation, industrial progress, improvement in agriculture and education are not supported by facts.

The claims are mostly propagandist in nature, barring a few in the area of rural development and tourism! But the manifesto lacks in pronouncing a clear guide on how it will work for the tea and timber sectors which are traditional mainstay in northern Bengal.

Trinamool’s claims of having doled out different types of grants in cash and kind to varied segments such as clubs, folk artists, muezzins, girl students, and others are not fiction.  These are the interventions that have touched many a lives directly.

Election Commission guidelines dated 25 April 2015 on election manifesto, clearly states: “In the interest of transparency, level playing field and credibility of promises, it is expected that manifestos also reflect the rationale for the 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.”

Trinamool’s manifesto fails to reflect the rationale of a host promises that have been made. It equally fails to indicate know it will manage the finances for fulfilling the promises.

The manifesto has raised the issue of huge debt burden that has been inherited from the previous Left government, but is silent on the huge rise in unproductive expenditure by the Trinamool government in the past five years. Trinamool’s promise of improvement in educational sector is neither seconded by the campus culture it has encouraged in these years nor the corruption in mismanagement and corruption in teacher appointments right from the primary to up to the university level.

How can such a corrupt ambience make voters believe the conclusion printed in the Trinamool manifesto about creating “A Bengal which would reaffirm the statement: What Bengal Thinks Today, India Thinks Tomorrow.” Gokhale, if he were alive today, would have certainly took this as the greatest creative joke from contemporary Bengal.

But for the Naradanews sting and the corresponding great expectations of the Opposition that the voters would reflect their antipathy over this on the EVM, the first round of election campaign in Bengal would have been very dull. This is because, in the absence of a manifesto from the Opposition parties, there is hardly anything substantial available this poll season to get into an informed debate.

(Biplob LohoChoudhury is a professor of journalism at Visva-Bharati. He lives in Santiniketan, Birbhum. Click here to read his previous articles.)

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