NEW DELHI: India’s floundering ruling Congress party has announced plans to create millions of jobs for the poor and revive the slumping economy in a last ditch effort to stave off defeat at national elections.
Unveiling his party’s manifesto for elections beginning April 7, Congress frontman Rahul Gandhi said $1 trillion would be spent on India’s decrepit infrastructure, roads and railways if his party was returned to power.
In front of several hundred Congress faithful, an upbeat Gandhi vowed to confound pollsters’ predictions that Congress was set for a humiliating defeat to the opposition BJP after a decade in power.
“We are going to construct a manufacturing backbone that will give millions of millions of people jobs,” Gandhi told the gathering at the party’s headquarters in the capital New Delhi.
Outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 81, said the next Congress government would be free of corruption, amid seething anger among voters over a string of graft scandals that has embroiled his administration.
“In a developing economy corruption cannot be wished away but every effort has to be made to overcome these tendencies which give rise to corruption,” Singh told the crowd.
Singh defended his Congress-led government’s record since it was first elected in 2004, saying 140 million people had been pulled out of poverty.
But Singh and Gandhi conceded much more needed to be done to overcome still endemic poverty for tens of milllions and reform the business environment to revive the economy running at a decade low of 4.7 percent.
The 48-page manifesto pledged to return the economy to eight percent growth within three years and provide 100 million young people with the skills needed for employment within five years.
Congress also focused on its traditional welfare policies for the poor, saying millions would be given access to affordable medical care and housing, while all Indians would have a bank account within five years.
Opinion polls show Congress, which has dominated Indian politics since independence, could lose more than half of its seats in the Lok Sabha lower house of parliament when results are announced on May 16.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its hardline candidate for prime minister Narendra Modi are widely expected to come to power over Congress, albeit with the help of small regional parties.
Modi, a popular but divisive figure who is chief minister of economically successful Gujarat state, is also campaigning on a platform of job creation and development for the country.
Congress party president Sonia Gandhi put on a brave face, saying she was confident of winning the elections to be held in nine phases, ending on May 12 with counting and results four days later.
“Opinion polls? I frankly must admit I don’t have much faith in them because they have been proved wrong again and again,” said the Italian-born party matriarch who is Rahul’s mother.
“If you remember in 2004 the story was Congress was finished, we were going to lose badly.”
She also said Congress stood for a secular India, in a pointed reference to Modi whose critics accuse him of failing to stop riots in Gujarat in 2002 when he was chief minister that left more than 1,000 people mostly Muslims dead.
“We want an India which is secular, where which religion you belong to or what language you speak or which region you’re from does not matter,” she said.