India’s Congress party unveils ‘wealth and welfare’ manifesto

United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, left, and Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi, right, release Congress party's manifesto for the upcoming general elections, in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. (AP)
Updated 02 April 2019

India’s Congress party unveils ‘wealth and welfare’ manifesto

  • The manifesto promises gender justice and a 33 percent reservation for women in government jobs
  • The manifesto pledges to reduce the presence of army and paramilitary forces in the disputed territory

NEW DELHI: India’s main opposition party on Tuesday unveiled its election manifesto, pledging minimum income support for 250 million people and special help for minorities and those in the disputed Kashmir region. 

The first phase of the country’s election begins April 11 and the results are due on May 23, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the main opposition Congress bidding to take control of India’s lower house of Parliament.

“We would focus on wealth and welfare,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said at an event that was attended by former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, head of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Sonia Gandhi. 

He promised a minimum job guarantee of 150 days for people in rural areas under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act, an employment scheme launched by a prior Congress government that ensured 100 days of guaranteed work.

The manifesto promises gender justice and a 33 percent reservation for women in government jobs.

An appeal to farmers comes in the form of a separate budget to address their issues.

Congress also pledged to provide minimum income support of $1,060 per annum to 250 million poor people.

“The last five years have been disastrous for the people of India,” Gandhi told reporters after the manifesto’s release. “Youths have lost jobs. Farmers have lost hope. Traders have lost business. Micro, small and medium enterprises have lost their confidence. Women have lost a sense of security. Deprived communities have lost their traditional rights. Institutions have lost independence. In this time of deep crisis the Congress Party promises a clean break from the past five years.”

The party declared its support for pluralism and promised to protect religious minorities and ensure their full constitutional and physical safety, which had been “endangered” in the last five years.

“In the last five years, the BJP government has spread hate and divisiveness. Congress will work toward uniting India and bringing people together,” said Gandhi.

The party promised to protect Article 370 of India’s constitution which gives special status to Kashmir state, following demands from some groups to remove it.

It said talks with all stakeholders were the only way out to find a “respectable solution” to the problems in the state.

The manifesto pledges to reduce the presence of army and paramilitary forces in the disputed territory and also dilute the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives unlimited power to security forces in the valley. 

But the BJP slammed the manifesto as “dangerous and un-implementable, and an agenda for the balkanization of India.”

Cabinet minister Arun Jaitley warned that such agendas served to break up the nation. “Being involved in terror will no longer be a crime,” he said. “The party which says this does not deserve a single vote. If all the Congress plans are implemented, there will be rule of insurgents and terrorists. If Congress tries to establish this, it will not be acceptable.”

However, political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said it was a brave manifesto and that Congress was no longer shy of stating its ideological position.

“By promising protection to minorities and political initiatives in Kashmir Congress is boldly countering the hyper nationalism of the BJP,” he told Arab News.

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 22 January 2020

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.