A manifesto is a published declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of an individual, group, political party or government. It usually contains a previously published opinion or public consensus or promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes the issuer believes should be made.
It is derived from the Latin word ‘manifesto’, meaning clear or conspicuous. Its first recorded use in English is from 1620, in Nathaniel Brent’s translation of Paolo Sarpi’s History of the Council of Trent: “To this citation, he made answer by a Manifesto”. Similarly, “They were so far surprised with his Manifesto, that they would never suffer it to be published”, the Oxford dictionary says.
An election manifesto is the list of promises to citizens which is issued by a political party. The list shows the ideology of the party and its commitment to the citizens. It is in the form of a pamphlet or booklet issued to tell people about the party’s programmes and policies.
An election manifesto has the following uses:
(i) The election manifestoes issued by various political parties at the time of elections enable the voters to know about the policies and programmes of the parties who are fighting the elections. After studying those manifestoes, the voters can vote for the party (candidate) of their choice.
(ii) The manifesto of the ruling party tells the people about its achievements during the last tenure. Similarly, the manifestos of the Opposition parties point out the failures of the government and mobilise public opinion against them.
(iii) After the elections, the party which is able to get the majority in the Parliament forms the government. The people can exert their pressure on the party in power to fulfil the various promises made to the people in its election manifesto. They are pressed to implement the policy and programmes issued in their election manifestoes.
Should election manifesto be made a legal document?
There have been arguments on whether election manifestos be made legal documents so as to hold the political parties accountable to their promises. BJP MP Varun Gandhi had also spoken in favour of this, saying that since “an election manifesto serves several purposes in a modern day democracy like India and helps highlight the potential of a party’s stint in government to undecided voters, while spelling out the consensus agenda agreed to by the party’s diversity of ideological and regional special groups”, it is important for political parties to be made accountable for their promises by ensuring a legal responsibility for their fulfilment.
Varun in this article for Hindustan Times wrote that as an erstwhile Chief Justice of India had noted, “manifestoes have become a mere piece of paper” and political parties need to be held accountable for them. “There must be a cost to unfulfilled manifesto promises, aside from a chance of being voted out of power,” he said. “If democracy is a social contract between those elected and ordinary citizens, then manifestos should be considered as a legal contract enshrining a country’s purported development agenda. For the health of India’s democracy, ensuring accountability for manifestoes remains a key reform to be pushed.”
While a manifesto usually political or artistic in nature, but there are other types of manifestos as well.
— Manifestos relating to religious belief are referred to as creeds
— Educational manifestos
— Scientific and technological manifestos
— Professional manifestos (pertaining to an individual or organisation)
Major categories of manifestos
— Goal: A goal can be a manifesto when we share it with other people. It’s public, it’s a declaration and it’s about what one intends to have happened.
— List and Rules: A set of rules for behaving within a specific context or a list of items to be achieved or tasks to be fulfiled.
— World: This type of manifesto aims to create a new world. It’s not about simple rules, instead, it presents a vision for the future. A solemn declaration, by the constituted authorities of a nation, which contains the reasons for its public acts towards another. On the declaration of war, a manifesto is usually issued in which the nation declaring the war, states the reasons for so doing.