The Election Commission has surveyed the various political parties to gauge interest in using a standardised style for election manifestos to disclose the monetary consequences of campaign pledges. The format specifications will be included in the optional model code of conduct.
EC’s goal is for voters to make a well-informed decision. It’s worth noting that five months ago, EC told the highest court that it’s up to voters to decide whether or not election promises may be kept. It’s possible for EC to have a change of heart. But will this really work?
Making accurate economic predictions is difficult since they rely on assumptions that don’t always pan out. It is therefore unlikely to yield useful information to ask political parties to make assumptions about their budgetary pledges. To add insult to injury, political parties during election season have no need to be practical. Therefore, it’s probably not worth the effort to press political parties for further information on campaign pledges.
However, the problem of rash pledges in polls persists even if EC’s method is inadequate. This entails highly questionable financial decisions. The ability of a state to invest in its citizens’ future is hampered when policies like universal free electricity or switching back to a defined benefit pension system are enacted. And they make it less likely that state governments will take effective measures to boost things like healthcare and education for their citizens.
In addition, voters become reliant on these handouts, decreasing their ability to penalise parties who do not provide better economic and social policy options. States that have seen significant growth in their GSDP and industrial employment have done so as a result of strong policies; no state has climbed out of abysmal macro metrics by handing out freebies. It’s also worth noting that India is one of the world’s better-performing economies because of its fiscally conservative posture.
The EC or the courts are not the proper institutions to rein in the pernicious practice of giving things away for free. Only political parties have the power to accomplish that, and that’s exactly what they did when they passed the FRBM law 20 years ago.