Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Time for Tracking the Election Manifesto Promises?

A young journalist from The Hindu performed an interesting analysis of official election manifestos. After analyzing individual items, he assigned them to one of the following categories - fulfilled, under progress, yet to start, stalled etc. According to the results, the Central Government of India had fulfilled 18% of the promises in 2.3 years. Though it seems low, I was actually surprised and happy to be wrong about my skepticism towards the government. The same journalist did another analysis of Delhi government and concluded 23% of the manifesto promises were fulfilled by the end of 1st year. Another pleasant surprise! I think it's time we start seriously evaluating the election manifestos by political parties and ask questions about unfulfilled promises. Let it not be a mere box of carrots.

There are two simple problems with this particular analysis,
  1. Cross-sectional analysis: This analysis was performed at a specific point of time (almost a year ago) and it is outdated now. So having these numbers continuously updated can help us compare apples to apples in real-time.
  2. Only two governments: Hypothetically if a BJP state government is performing poorly it should not get bragging rights for the good work done by BJP's Central Government. So it would be extremely valuable to have these statistics for central government & all state governments.
In addition, there are two **complex** problems with the analysis,
  1. Evaluating the Status: Assessing status of abstract and generic items is an arduous task. The claims like "we will curb corruption" are hard to measure as there is no perfect and objective definition. Overall, every declared item in manifesto should be objective with measurable properties or needs to be converted into its objective-equivalent. This is where the process becomes tricky - how do we ensure lack of bias in this conversion to measure it accurately. Eventually, it might become my-word-against-yours situation.
  2. Evaluating the Manifesto: Assessing status of the manifesto promises alone is not enough. Completing poorly drafted manifesto about 60% does not demonstrate better governance against 50% completion of a sincerely drafted manifesto. Every manifesto itself need to be evaluated on parameters like education, health, infrastructure requirements of the population. Perhaps scholars from civil society should collaboratively construct an expected manifesto as a "benchmark-manifesto" well before any political party announce it.
AAP's manifesto meter after 1 year in power, source: The Hindu

Though I am more inclined towards AAP, I think making existing parties more accountable is necessary than forming new ones. A lot of political parties are formed with a noble intentions and resolves, providing renewed hope to masses. Yet historically speaking, all of them become complaisant, lethargic and lose the vision. Then the struggle to remain in power at any cost begins. Nepotism and polarization become pillars of parties which once stood for less popular truth. If you look at candidates fielded in Uttar Pradesh by BJP you will see the rampant nepotism in the party. The conclusion is, what Congress did yesterday, BJP is doing it today and AAP might do tomorrow. The way forward is, pre-defining and employing the same set of robust evaluation measures for your favorite and undesired political parties.

We have had multiple and even more painful battles in past to make our politicians and government bodies accountable. In last decade when Association for Democratic Reform activists were fighting for the provision of making candidate's criminal background and assets public, almost all political parties unanimously opposed it. Eventually, this hard-fought battle was won by ADR, thanks to Supreme Court of India. The Right-to-Information act would qualify as another story in the identical basket. Compared to these uphill battles, crudely tracking election manifestos seems like a low hanging fruit. Based on my limited exposure, I am rather surprised why political activists and NGOs haven't started tracking poll manifestos on a continuous basis. (feel free to update me if I am missing anything here)

In this age of extremely advanced and sophisticated propaganda machinery, I am very hopeful about this kind of projects as they can help us to restore the objectivity.

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