NEW DELHI (AP) — India's struggling Congress party appealed to its main constituency of poor voters in an election manifesto unveiled Wednesday that promises new jobs and more funding for education and health care.
Polls indicate a drubbing is in store for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government in next month's elections. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has not released its election manifesto but is campaigning that it wants to wipe out corruption it says is embodied by Congress.
In reverting to its traditional support base, Congress vowed to create 100 million new jobs, set up new universities and take immediate steps to contain inflation. Party leaders also promised more funds for education, health care and agriculture if the party was voted back into power.
India's 814 million eligible voters head to the polls starting April 7.
Party leader Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family that has ruled India for decades, told a crowded news conference that the Congress is determined to protect India's secular character — a clear jab at the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, which is led by Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi.
The beleaguered Congress party-led government has been facing public anger over allegations of corruption, including a poorly run sale of cellphone rights and a misallocation of coal fields that auditors said lost the country billions of dollars.
The corruption scandals have added to people's perception that the government had failed to push through the much-needed economic reforms to revive a slowing economy.
Singh said the Congress was committed to improve the delivery of services without it leaking out through graft.
"In a developing economy, corruption cannot be wished away. But every effort has to be made to overcome the tendencies that give rise to corruption," Singh said.
Singh's government had reaped the benefits of 9 percent growth during its first term in office until 2009. But the economy was hit by the 2008 global crisis and growth plunged to around 4.5 percent, which added to the government's woes.
Despite the slow growth figures, Singh said that over the past decade his government had succeeded in pulling more than 140 million people out of poverty.
"The rate of poverty decline has tripled as compared to the preceding decade," Singh told reporters.
The party also announced a raft of new welfare measures including a pension scheme and new housing plans for the underprivileged.
With Modi crisscrossing the country holding election rallies where he rips into the Congress party's failures, the Congress has fallen back on its traditional supporters.
Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat state, is accused of doing little to stop anti-Muslim riots in the state in 2002 which left more than 1,000 dead. While he was never charged with a crime, Modi's critics say he did little to stop the three months of rioting.
Modi has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the violence, but has never expressed remorse or offered an apology.
With Modi surging ahead in opinion polls, Congress leaders hit out at the BJP's prime ministerial candidate describing his agenda as one that would marginalize the poor and powerless.
Modi's ideology is one that "makes people fight with each other," Gandhi said. "It will damage the country."
"Every Congressman will fight to defeat that ideology," he vowed.