The Congress manifesto, which was released by party president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Tuesday, makes a host of populist promises with special focus on minorities, Dalits and tribal communities.
Carrying forward its flagship National Rural Employment Guarantee Act scheme, the Congress has promised 100 days of work for Rs 100 a day, as an entitlement under the NREGA.
The Congress has also promised to enact a Right to Food law that guarantees food for all. It has announced that every family living below the poverty line will be entitled to 25 kg of rice or wheat per month at Rs 3 per kg. The manifesto promises subsidised community kitchens, which will be set up in all cities for homeless people and migrants, with the support of the central government.
In the health sector, the Congress has declared that every family living below the poverty line will be covered by the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana over the next three years.
The party has promised comprehensive social security cover for the disabled, the elderly, urban homeless, released bonded labourers, members of primitive tribal groups and members of the most backward Dalit communities.
The party has reiterated the contentious promise of implementing 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and state legislatures, which it had failed to do in the last five years, due to stiff opposition by some of its allies. The Congress even promises to reserve one third of all central government jobs for women.
The Congress has promised free education -- from primary till the university level -- for students from Dalit and tribal communities.
Continuing its incentives for the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities, the party has pledged to pay the tuition fees for all entrance exams for at least one lakh SC and ST students every year, in addition to increasing the national scholarships for such students.
To reiterate the party's commitment towards pursuing affirmative action, the Congress has promised to implement reservations in the private sector for the economically weaker sections of all communities, without prejudice to the existing reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs.
Declaring a zero tolerance policy towards terrorism, the Congress has pledged to equip the police and other special security forces with the latest weapons and technology to counter terrorist threats. More specialist battalions will be raised and positioned in key locations across the country, says the manifesto.
The party has focused on its core areas of concern which include farmers, women, the socially deprived and the weaker sections. Through its wide range of promises, the Congress is trying to project a government which will work on inclusive growth, encompassing all sections of the society.
The ruling Congress party on Tuesday also promised "intelligent and wise" foreign policy rooted in traditions and ridiculed rival Bharatiya Janata Party for propounding a "muscular foreign policy", which led the country to Kargil war, surrender in Kandahar and a stalemate in Operation Parakaram.
Releasing the party's 23-page manifesto for 2009 general elections, both the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and Congress president Mrs. Sonia Gandhi took satisfaction at the "successful diplomatic campaign" launched in the aftermath of 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks. "It was a campaign that led to Pakistan admitting, for the first time, that its citizens were responsible for the attack. That admission was a notable victory for our well thought out foreign policy," read the manifesto, a potpourri of past five year performance of the Congress led United Progressive Alliance government and the poll promises.
Earlier, while launching the manifesto, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said a strong India was the only hope for South Asia's prosperity. He said India's neighborhood was in turmoil. "I see instability all around India. What is happening in Pakistan, the challenge of terrorism and what is happening in Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are all events that cause us worries about the future of South Asia," he said.
He added that a strong and a purposeful government in India can be a source of enormous change in rebuilding a more prosperous and equitable South Asia, ending his speech by reciting a distorted Urdu couplet of Muzaffar Razmi:
Kooch aisey bhi manzar hain taareekh ki nazroon mein
Lamhoon nay khata kee thee, sadiyoon nay saza payee.
Replying a question whether India was ready to launch a war against Pakistan in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, Prime Minister said while India felt deeply about the massacre but no purpose was served by promoting war hysteria.
He said diplomatic efforts to make Pakistan act against terrorists have succeeded. The PM also said government expected Pakistan to take the next sequential step to ensure justice is done and the culprits are punished. He, however, maintained that though he was not fully satisfied the way Pakistan was moving, still diplomacy should be given a chance, he opined.
Pledging that Congress party was for enduring peace and close economic relations with Pakistan, the manifesto said the burden squarely rests with Islamabad to break the impasse by taking credible actions against those responsible for the carnage in Mumbai.
"If it does so and dismantles the terrorist network that operates from its soil, a Congress-led government will not be found waiting in its response," the poll agenda said.
Reminding that the government had encouraged extensive people-to-people contacts with Pakistan, particularly amongst the younger generation, the manifesto lamented that Mumbai attacks have cast a long shadow on the on-going dialogue and engagement process.
In an attempt to woo the minority community, the Congress plans to implement reservation for minorities, on the basis of social and economic backwardness, in government jobs and educational institutions. The party has promised to set up an Equal Opportunity Commission to ensure that the Sachar Commission's recommendations are implemented and the minorities are not deprived in any manner.
The manifesto has also promised establishment of a Wakf Development Corporation to develop and overlook Muslim properties and a National Unani University. It also promised to implement the policy of reservation in government employments for minorities on the basis of their social and economic condition at national level.
Promising accountability in police forces, the party poll document further pledged to empower the National Human Rights Commission to monitor investigation and trial in all cases of communal and caste violence. It has also promised a regulatory purview of school curricula of various communal and sectarian organisationsregardless of their affiliations.