What have manifestos of political parties promised for the disabled?
While the CPI (M), the Congress and the BJP do discuss issues concerning persons with disability, the Trinamool Congress and NCP manifestos fail on this count.
Come election season and political parties begin pulling out dusty files regarding the needs of minority groups. This is perhaps the only time that due attention is given to the neglected lot. However there is one group, often referred to as the ‘invisible minority’, that has, over the years, failed to get even that little iota of attention in the most sensitised of all season, the elections. A quick look at the manifestos of various national political parties reveals an alarming apathy towards the cause of Persons with Disabilities.
India has undertaken many International obligations relating to rights of persons with disability (PwDs). It is sad, but true, that most of the developments in the area of human rights of PwDs happen due to international pressure. It is under these international obligations that the government brings about new laws or policies, which once drafted and adopted rarely see much action. For example, consider the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016, which was passed by the Parliament and then notified on December 28, 2016. Over two years have passed but the Government of Goa is yet to notify its rules and enact it in the state.
The Constitution of India mandates that PwDs enjoy the same rights as other citizens. Sadly, almost 50 per cent of PwDs in India are illiterate, only 34 per cent are employed (2001 data) and 75 per cent live in villages. The National Policy on PwDs, released in 2006, recognised PwDs as a valuable human resource and stressed on the state providing conducive environments to realise their potential, help them contribute to the society and lead independent lives.
To understand the commitment of national parties towards rights of PwDs, we undertook a simple exercise of analysing election manifestos of five national parties and measured them vis-a-vis their vision for PwDs.
Before that, here’s a caveat: this write up is purely an academic exercise to educate voters on the level of commitment of parties towards rights of PwDs. It does in no way support any particular political party.
Communist Party of India (Marxist)
In the last Lok Sabha, the CPI(M) had nine seats. For the current elections, its manifesto runs into 35 pages. Before going into the details, it is important to mention that the party makes a special mention of Persons with Disabilities; in fact there are 12 entries under the heading. In addition to the special heading, PwDs are sporadically mentioned in other places of the manifesto.
It promises budgetary allocation for implementation of two enactments (relating to PwDs). It promises to simplify the process of certification, implementation of promises made on international forums and review the national disability policy. Promises of backlog clearance, creation of new jobs and accessibility of buildings, TV and other media are made. On the whole, we found that the CPI(M) has done their homework on PwDs in preparing the manifesto. They also display an understanding of the requirements of the PwDs.
Nationalist Congress Party
The Nationalist Congress Party has had a comfortable presence in Goa and more so in Maharashtra. In the last Lok Sabha, NCP had 7 members in the Lower House. The manifesto of the NCP this time runs into 23 pages. There are three places where they come close to addressing issues pertaining to PwDs but finally fail to specifically recognise this group. In the context of Human Resource Development, they evoke all groups with the exception of PwDs. This is an indication that the NCP does not seem to consider PwDs as a human resource. This is a degrading approach by the party think tank. Right to health, women and child health, child protection and women empowerment are different headings where NCP could have addressed the issues of PwDs.
NCP wishes to display a socialistic approach, where they promise facilities to minorities, the socially backward, the economically backward, women and children. But no specific mention of persons with disabilities, which by international statistics constitute 10% of the population worldwide, exposes a glaring deficiency in their “socialistic” goals. It is disturbing to note that the NCP displays a complete lack of depth and understanding of issues pertaining to persons with disabilities.
All-India Trinamool Congress (TMC)
The Trinamool Congress had 33 MPs in the last Lok Sabha and is in power in West Bengal. The AITC or TMC manifesto is 72 pages long, out of which a major portion is dedicated to the achievements of the TMC in West Bengal. One part is dedicated to the failure of the BJP government at the Centre and the rest is promises for the coming years.
Like NCP, not a single line is dedicated to the upliftment of persons with disabilities. Yet again a party that claims a socialistic approach fails miserably in living up to its claims in its manifesto. The exclusion or absence of PwDs from its key document shows utter failure in addressing social justice.
Indian National Congress
The Congress manifesto sounds promising, since it calls for a constitutional amendment that will include Disability in Art 15 and 16 so that the State can make special provisions for the PwDs. The Congress addresses yet another issue by suggesting an Amendment to include Indian Sign Language and the braille script as languages. The party promises to ensure physical inclusiveness by making government buildings, etc., barrier free.
Their understanding of Disability issues is exemplified as they recognize the importance of information inclusiveness through an accessible information portal. In response to a long-standing demand of the disability sector, the Congress assures its commitment to zero GST on all assistive and adaptive aids, appliances and devices. The party assures in its manifesto a quick review of the policy statement of each and every department to include PwDs. Finally, the party commits itself to establish a National Centre of Research and Excellence for Special Education to ensure quality education. To include post activity feedback, the party proposes annual social audit of the PwDs.
Bharatiya Janata Party
The Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014 with a massive majority in the Lok Sabha. In their manifesto this time, they recommit themselves to the schemes announced in their last tenure in addition to some new promises. The incumbent party has promised early intervention and early detection of disability by empowering Anganwadi workers’ network. The party assures citizens about its commitment to physical accessibility through its SugamyaBharat or Accessible India campaign. Like the Congress, the BJP promises continuous accessibility audits along with ratings for cities, public infrastructure including airports, railway stations, etc., and collaboration with industry and civil society organisations to make all public buildings accessible. The party addresses housing needs through priority for PwDs under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. In order to give impetus to financial advancement of PwDs, the BJP promises higher bank interest rates on fixed deposits.
While some manifestos with their detailed ideas and promises display their intent regarding the social upliftment of PwDs, there are two parties that seem to have no inkling of these issues. When a party aspires to represent its population, it must rise above the din and noise of petty politics. The process of drafting a manifesto must be undertaken with the intent of bringing about a change, with a commitment to social justice and special attention to those who have been left out so far. In a country as diverse and vast as ours, a holistic understanding of the needs of the population is crucial to governance.
(The authors are members of Goa-based iDare (Initiative for disability awareness rights and empowerment)