OUR FREEDOM AGENDA : RAHUL GANDHI’S MESSAGE
The 2019 elections present the people of India with a stark choice.
They can either continue, as before, to remain free from fear, free to live, work, pray, eat, love and marry according to their wishes.
Or, they can allow a pernicious ideology to trample on people’s rights, on institutions, on conventions and on the very idea of diversity and plurality. An ideology that is anti-knowledge, anti-scientific and thrives on fake news and divisiveness.
In 2014, many voters were taken in by the extravagant promises of less intrusive government and greater economic freedom. Instead, they saw those in power take over more and more of our lives even as they delivered less and less. Demonetisation robbed people of their most basic property rights in the quest of a pipe dream that burst when all the cash came back into the system. This one ill-thought decision destroyed crores of jobs and drove lakhs of small enterprises out of business. Poor GST implementation provided a second blow to the economy, and these missteps have produced India’s highest unemployment rate in 45 years. Statistical jugglery has taken the place of development, and attention is diverted from real failures by presenting exaggerated success.
Freedom for individuals
The Indian National Congress promises to make a fresh start after these five troubling years. We reassert our unwavering commitment to truth and freedom. We promise to make India not just strong and united, but also just and equitable. We will implement a strong freedom agenda.
You may have heard about our path-breaking Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) proposal to transfer ₹72,000/year to the poorest families, our decision to enact a Right to Healthcare Act that will transform public health services in India and our plan to radically simplify the Goods and Services Tax to a single, moderate rate.
We also intend to safeguard our rights. Many of our laws are colonial relics that have no place in a modern democracy. If elected to office, we promise to decriminalise those laws that should be civil violations, including defamation, and to delete the British Raj-era ‘sedition’ law that governments too often abuse. We will review all laws and repeal those that are outdated, unjust or unreasonably restrict our freedoms.
Our digital personas are increasingly under threat. Privacy is a fundamental right and we will enact a law to protect it, placing safeguards against excessive surveillance and putting in place appropriate parliamentary oversight. We will amend the Aadhaar Act to limit the use of Aadhaar to its original, voluntary purposes and ensure that citizens can access services with alternative forms of identification.
Congress strongly stands for net neutrality and for open standards, and will ensure that citizens can access information and government services using free and open source software, without having to rely on proprietary software.
Women are equal stakeholders in our society, but remain underrepresented in politics, in administration and in the workforce. Congress will pass legislation to reserve 33% of all seats in the Lok Sabha, in state assemblies and in central government positions for women. We will encourage women’s employment by giving tax incentives to businesses that hire a certain minimum percentage of women. And we will improve women’s security by ensuring that state governments reserve 33% of police posts for women. Bringing up children is not solely a woman’s responsibility, but falls disproportionately on women. We will include crèche services in anganwadis to provide daycare to small children and thereby empower working women.
Freedom for businesses
Our freedom agenda is not limited to individuals. We will also liberate the micro-, small- and medium-enterprises (MSME) that generate 90% of non-agricultural jobs from the heavy hand of overregulation. Despite government rhetoric around helping startups and easing restrictions on business, MSMEs continue to deal with a regulatory burden. Congress promises to do the following to generate employment:
Exempt new micro- and small-enterprises from all applicable regulations (except minimum wages and tax laws) for a period of three years starting 1 April 2019, or from the date of commencement of business. This will be true freedom from ‘Inspector Raj’;
Link the definition of MSMEs to employment, and reward businesses that create jobs with lower taxes;
Withdraw the ‘Angel Tax’ imposed on investors;
Expand the education and health sectors to create lakhs of new jobs for qualified teachers, doctors, nurses, paramedics, technicians, instructors and administrators;
Support mass entrepreneurship, helping entrepreneurs access basic financial, marketing and other kinds of support that will aid them in scaling up their businesses.
Freedom to live
India is rapidly urbanising, and programmes like the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission have improved infrastructure. But for our cities to become liveable, thriving environments we need accountable governance and more financial resources. Congress will ensure that every town has a directly elected mayor and an effective municipal council. We will devolve powers to municipalities and ensure they receive a fixed share of GST revenues.
We are often presented with a false choice between development and the environment. But as most of you are acutely aware, we are facing air, water and food quality emergencies with far-reaching consequences not only for our own well being, but also for the future of our children. Our forests, wildlife, lakes, rivers, clean air and coasts are precious natural resources in need of protection. We will set up an independent and empowered Environmental Protection Agency to monitor and enforce environmental standards. We will confer legal and financial powers upon panchayats and municipalities and encourage the participation of citizens and communities in environmental protection.
These are only some of the commitments we will implement if you vote us into office in 2019. Our manifesto is the result of 121 public consultations and 53 expert consultations with entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, teachers, economists and many others. We held meetings at 60 locations across 27 states and union territories, and also met with NRI representatives from 12 countries. This is truly your manifesto, and I invite you to view the full document at manifesto.inc.in.
This is our commitment.