General elections for the XIth Lok Shabha are round the corner and the country is flooded with the manifestoes. It has been a usual practice that political parties release their manifestoes at the time of general elections so that electorates are familiarise with the policies and programmes of the party. Though a wide range of policy matters and programmes used to find a place in the manifestoes, only few have direct concern to the general public among which education is one such important area. Therefore, it is worthwhile to study manifestoes of different political parties with particular reference to education in general and their commitments and determination with particular reference to Universal Literacy and Enrolment though there is no guarantee that all the promises will be fulfilled or even a particular political party itself will get a chance to implement its programmes. In the present write-up, manifestoes of only five major political parties, namely, Indian National Congress (Indira), Bharatiya Janata Party and National Front/Left Front parties such as Janata Dal, Communist Party of India (M) and Communist Party of India (CPI) are analysed with particular reference to above in the mind.
Looking at a glance, one gets the impression that all the parties have mentioned education in their manifestoes but it has got adequate attention in only few manifestoes. Invariably most of the problems of education system which the country is facing today are found a place in different manifestoes but their coverage vary from manifesto to manifesto. Even, the alliance parties have different priorities on their manifestoes as has been observed in case of manifestoes of Janta Dal and Left Parties, namely, CPI and CPI (M). So far as the policy matter is concerned, no party except the Janta Dal, mentioned the review of the existing policy on education. Janta Dal views that the Acharya Ramaurty Committee Report (1990) on the review of the NPE (1986) shall be carefully considered and taken up for early implementation.
The areas highlighted in different manifestoes can be grouped under areas relating to adult literacy and continuing education programmes, elementary education and investment on education. A number of parities have given adequate attention to literacy programmes in the country. While BJP envisage to launch a community-level adult education programme to provide functional literacy to at least 90 per cent of adult illiterates in both villages and the cities, Indian National Congress (Indira) promised that Total Literacy Campaigns would be further strengthened with special emphasis on marginalised groups like child workers, pavement dwellers, migrate labour etc.. CPI promised that it would also launch National Literacy Campaign for achieving total literacy within time-bound period for which it would mobilize both students and youth for the campaign. Other manifestoes are silent on this subject. If come to power, CPI (M) would increase allocation for mass education including the literacy programmes.
So far as the goal of Universalisation of Elementary Education is concerned, all the parties have paid adequate attention to it in their manifestoes. CPI (M) promised free and compulsory education guaranteed by law for all children up to the age 14 years but the CPI though it want universal education but no guarantee through law is promised. It is only Indian National Congress which has committed to ensure universal access to UEE by the year 2001 but no other party has mentioned specific date by which the goal of this national importance would be achieved. In order to achieve the goals, it would expand the ongoing programme of DPEP which at present is under implementation in different parts of the country. The programme is funded by the donor agencies that if expanded, would need more assistance, as the party has promised expansion of the programme in all the remaining districts soon. Education to deprived section of the society has also got adequate attention but the Janta Dal manifesto is more specific and to the point. The party envisages that education will be made an effective instrument for securing equality and justice for women, the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes, other socially, educationally and economically backward classes, and minorities.
Incentives to achieve goals of UEE is promised in almost all the manifestoes except those related to left parties. The Indian National Congress (Indira) claimed that it has already implemented the mid-day meal scheme which at present is benefiting about 34 million children in Classes I to IV and the scheme will be further expanded, if it returns to power at the Centre. Janta Dal is also committed to fulfill the goal of UEE through devising a package of suitable incentives with a special emphasis on mid-day meal scheme. On the other hand to check drop-out rate, BJP would offer incentives in the form of free text books, nutrition programmes and stipends so that at least 80 per cent children, who enroll, complete primary school education but again no specific time framework has been presented. BJP also promised that if come to power, it would set-up special monitoring authority to scrutinize the quality of education and remove gender disparity that is otherwise silent in all other manifestoes.
All the parties covered in the present write-up have promised increased allocation on education in terms of its percentage to total Gross National Product and invariably six percent is suggested which is in accordance to the recommendations of the Kothari Commission (1966). Even, some parties have inclined that if they come to power, educational allocation would be even more than six per cent. BJP also promised 6 per cent investment on education and it envisages taking help of non-governmental organisations in this area. While Indian National Congress (Indira) and CPI will also allocate six per cent, CPI) M) would ensure at least ten per cent of the national budget and 30 per cent of the state budgets but it failed to inform electorates how the party will force other states/parties to spend this much amount on education. Even, in West Bengal where it is in power since 1977, the allocation on education as a percentage to total state budget is less than that envisaged in the manifesto. Janta Dal promised that at least 50 per cent of the funds allocated to education will be invested on elementary education and half of all the funds allocated to education at different stages will be utilized for promoting girls and women’s education but none of the party has given the time framework by which the promises would be fulfilled.
BJP promises introduction of an anti-cheating law which will be applicable to all States and whose abuse will be prevented through adequate safeguards but it failed to inform how it would force other states to introduce such measures especially when education is on concurrent list. Some of its promises relating to higher education is interesting, if implemented will have far reaching consequences. The party promised that it would abolish the system of capitation fee and monitor the functioning of private engineering and medical institutions but it is silent on private schools. Academic freedom to social scientists is also promised. It also envisage to launch a scheme for low interest bank loans for meritorious students who want to go in for higher education and it would also prevent the outflow of foreign exchange on studies abroad unless the course is relevant to needs and requirements of the country. INC (Indira) will improve access to technical education, vocational and higher education through distance learning modes, open schools and open universities.
The above discussion suggest that all the major issues in general and issues relating to universal enrolment and literacy in particular are covered in different manifestoes but it remains to see which party get a chance to implement its programmes and policies or whether these programmes would continue to remain in the manifestoes as has been a practice in the past. Otherwise the country cannot afford further to neglect programmes and policies leading towards a universal literate and enrolled country in the beginning of twenty first century.