Elections 2009: A Manifesto for Middle India

With the Indian elections having been announced, we will have the manifestos of various parties making their appearance soon – and vanishing from memory with equal speed. The segment which will be ignored is Middle India. (In telecom terms, this is the India which is between the two extremes of post paid and lifetime incoming free!)

So, what could the political parties offer Middle India to get our vote (of confidence)? What are the top anxieties of Middle India that need to be addressed? Here is my take.

  • More Economic Freedom: An assurance that liberalisation will continue, because that is what creates more jobs and opportunities. Over the past few years, liberalisation has come to a halt.
  • Less Government Interference: An assurance that people will have more control of their own lives, without the spectre of a government bearing down on them. This means decisions made on merit, and elimination of unnecessary rules and regulations which hobble us and our enterprise. Also, a government that works to eliminate corruption at all levels and introduce greater accountability in its functioning.
  • Best Education: If there is one thing that can make us more competitive in the global economy, it is education. India needs the education sector to be opened up.
  • Security: Over the past few years, the feeling of security has slowly ebbed away with multiple acts of terrorism coming to our doorstep. India needs to feel safe again.

What are your thoughts? What can Indian political parties offer Middle India to win us over?

44 thoughts on “Elections 2009: A Manifesto for Middle India

  1. Rajesh, good thoughts! Some of these are directional, and would be good to put specific actions (like opening up of education) that a government may take.

    However, I think what the outgoing government has taught us are the perils of corruption and financial mismanagement. In my direct experience, memory and history reading, this seems to be the most corrupt government we have ever had. And in spite of leading economists running the government, we are at the brink (perhaps below, who knows) of a sovereign financial disaster – all of our making, let me add – very little of this has to do with the global meltdown.

  2. Rajesh – This is spot on. The two points we want is more economic freedom and less Government interference. If parties this in place everything else will follow.Parties should put in manifesto which are the areas, if they they come to power they will relinquish the control.
    I will blindly vote for the party which mentions the above two points.


  3. Agree with Alok.

    You will see that there is a paradox that you will discover when you begin to write out the detail. How can you be more secure without solving the Naxal problem in 170 of India’s 600 districts? And is there a police/paramilitary solution to the Naxal problem, or do we need a political solution that adrresses the key issue of land tenancy. If you then go deeper, you realise the interconnectedness of middle India to the other two ends of the pyramid so that thinking of a middle India standalone ceases to make sense.

    Then there might be an inherent contradiction between some of your points, say for example education & security, which are universally assumed to be public goods (high economies of scale & externalities) so require more & not less public involvement versus the limited role of the state that we would otherwise want. I personally think that our Tax/GDP ratio of 11-12% and a deficit of 9-12% gives us a government/GDP of 20-24%, which is low by any standard, especially that of a developing country. So pruning government or tax rates is silly. What we need is a more effective government, bureacuracy & institutional reform, delegation of spending lower than state levels, private provision of public services using vouchers etc. Bashing the size of the government is too simplistic.

    My third problem, with your otherwise excellent ideas, is that they completely miss some top-of-mind issues that need to be addressed. Did you, for example, see the crisis in our freshwater resources or forest covers? And the complete apathy of Middle India to these yawning disasters? Is that not something that needs immediate resolution – something more innovative than left-lebral-Medha Patkar-type anti-development thinking?

    Finally, think harder and you will see that even within each of these points, the need to go deeper is more important and will bring out the real choices in decision making. Is education more important than primary health, preventing the HIV edpidemic that is at our door? Will economic freedom allow you also to seek economic stimulus which, to my utter surprise and disaapointment, most free-marketeers seem to be pining for at this moment, in both India and economically freer places?

    Policy-making and agenda-setting requires a careful cataloguing of options, detailed analysis of feasibility and pros/cons to get us to something which will have both our own conviction and external appeal.

  4. Rajesh,

    I think the expectation should be that governments focuses on the following (in the particular order listed below):

    * Security from external threats
    * Law & Order (including massive improvements in the justice system)
    * Social infrastructure (education, healthcare)
    * Physical, electric/digital infrastructure
    * Sound financial infrastructure (banking, equity/debt markets)
    * Economic policies (liberalisation, simpler taxation for businesses, individuals, …)
    * Social safety net (unemployment benefits, retirement/social security)

    Of course, to be able to do all this, the tax collections need to be improved significantly, and the spending needs to be such that fiscal deficits don’t get out of control.

    All this sounds utopian, but there are several levels of governance..even doing the minimum basic on the above will be a great start!


  5. Rajesh,

    As technology entrepreneurs (technocrats) the group should
    focus more on technology related issues. Education is one.

    When you start talking like BJP agenda or Congress agenda
    it gets diluted and gets now-where…that politicians will
    take care.

    We have to apply the principles of a start-up company. Laser
    focused on 1 or 2 (max) particular issue and see what can be done
    to make it reality.

    My 2-rupee.

    Have fun.

  6. Let’s also have
    – good public transport all over India
    – more investment in sports

  7. Anshuman – Why should education problem only considered to be solved by Government.

    Why is bashing the government size and its inefficient spending too simplistic. In fact I will argue that specifically in India if government takes any activity on a large scale it will destroy it.

    Even the current economic crisis has been created by the governments and central banks.


  8. From my point of view, I see the problem is basically of appealing to the specific segments of the population. One such is the urban population. It’s anxieties are essentially those related to a decent income which is not stolen by the state apparatus, a chance to be left alone to do what it can do, and light-handed governance.

    The message has to be simple and comprehensible. A lot of talk about GDP growth and all sorts of macro issues are not of great relevance to the average voter.

    One has to focus, not go into a PhD thesis of how development should be done. The average voter is not a quantum mechanic. All that one is interested in is how the government will address the core issues. These have to be presented in an accessible way. Long winding convoluted arguments are not going to do the job.

    The message has to be simple and straightforward. Here are the few simple things that the party is committed to doing and they matter to you. That should be the message. And the party has to credibly commit to them.

    For instance, if you tell the average urban voter that the party is serious about reducing government overhead, the voter would immediately see that it means that taxes will be lower and government control will be light-handed.

    If you tell the voter that the government is serious about reforming the education sector, he or she will quickly grasp that the children will have a shot at getting a decent education which will enable them to compete in the competitive world of today and tomorrow.

    The basic idea is to keep the message simple. There is plenty of evidence from home and abroad that the simpler the message, the more likely it is going to be heard.

    Of course, you could present the voter with a PhD thesis about development and growth. It will be very clever of you but it will be totally irrelevant when it comes to voting for or against a party.

  9. That is right Antanu. The message of manifesto has to be simple. It cannot be a PhD thesis and need not address all the evils of the world.


  10. In fact there could be a catchy slogan like
    1.Choti Sarkar par bade kam.
    2.Uttam Siksha har bacha bane vidwan


  11. One item I would REALLY like to see in a manifesto is a solemn resolve to mount a consistent battle against corruption. Sadly, corruption gets a passing reference in manifestos and more often used to beat the opponent with if he is unfortunate enough to get caught. I personally feel that corruption is a larger threat that we as a nation face.

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