India Congress manifesto pledges 'millions' of jobs

Rahul Gandhi, Congress party vice president and son of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, addresses the media during the release of his party's election manifesto for the April/May general election in New Delhi on March 26, 2014. India's embattled rul
Rahul Gandhi, Congress party vice president and son of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, addresses the media during the release of his party's election manifesto for the April/May general election in New Delhi on March 26, 2014. India's embattled ruling Congress party promised Wednesday, March 26, 2014, to create millions of jobs and revive a sliding economy as it unveiled a populist manifesto aimed at averting electoral defeat. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's embattled ruling Congress party promised Wednesday to create millions of jobs and revive a sliding economy as it unveiled a populist manifesto aimed at averting electoral defeat.

Reaching out to Congress's traditional constituency of poor voters, party leader Rahul Gandhi pledged "growth for all" as he released the manifesto at a rally for the general elections which kick off April 7.

Mr Gandhi declared US$1 trillion (S$ 1.3 trillion) would be spent to improve India's decrepit infrastructure, roads and railways if his party was returned to power for a third term.

"We are going to construct a manufacturing backbone that will give millions of people jobs," and "ensure everybody has access to quality health care," Mr Gandhi, scion of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty which has given India three prime ministers.

Opinion polls suggest Congress, which has dominated Indian politics since independence from Britain in 1947, could lose more than half of its seats in the lower house of parliament when results are announced May 16.

The right-of-centre Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is widely expected to come to power with the help of small regional parties.

Mr Gandhi's mother, Sonia, who is party president, told the same gathering in the capital that Congress would confound pollsters' predictions of a humiliating defeat.

Sonia Gandhi, who led Congress to a come-from-behind victory in 2004, said she was confident the party would win the elections which will be held in nine phases. Results are due in mid-May.

"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.

"If you remember in 2004 the story was Congress was finished - we were going to lose badly" and it turned out otherwise, she said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 81, whose party has come under fire from critics who say he did nothing to stop a string of corruption scandals that occurred under his watch, said the next Congress government would be free of graft.

"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," Dr Singh told the crowd.

The 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.