NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pledged to spend US$1.44 trillion (S$1.95 trillion) on infrastructure to boost the economy and raise living standards, in a bid to match its main rival's populist promises.
The BJP, which is seeking to retain power in elections starting on Thursday (April 11), released its manifesto in New Delhi on Monday, reiterating its pledge to double farmer's income by 2022, improve the gross domestic product share from the manufacturing sector and double exports.
It will also scrap Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which grants special concessions to the disputed state of Kashmir.
India's 263 million farmers are a key voting bloc in the world's largest democracy. The main opposition Congress Party has promised to write off farm loans throughout the country.
To match it, the BJP committed to invest 25 trillion rupees (S$487 billion) in rural development and said farmers would receive 6,000 rupees in income support.
"The essence of the manifesto is to deplete poverty to single digits in next five years and then eventually eliminate it," said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. "This manifesto has been prepared with a strong nationalist vision."
It also promised to take its flagship programmes - providing toilets, electricity connections, houses, cooking gas, crop insurance and loans for small businesses - to more beneficiaries by allocating additional resources.
The BJP, which is leading in opinion polls, is offering giveaways to stave off a challenge from Congress, led by Mr Rahul Gandhi. Congress has promised in its manifesto to rid India of poverty by 2030 by providing income support to the poor, waiving farm loans and creating jobs.
The BJP also said it would remove decades-old special rights for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, making an election promise that could provoke a backlash in the country’s volatile only Muslim majority state.
“Nationalism is our inspiration,” Mr Modi said.
Mr Modi’s BJP has consistently advocated ending Kashmir’s special constitutional status, which prevents outsiders from buying property in the state, arguing that such laws have hindered its integration with the rest of the country.
“We believe that Article 35A is an obstacle in the development of the state,” the BJP manifesto said, referring to the 1954 amendment to the Constitution.
Political leaders in Muslim-majority Kashmir, where India is fighting an armed insurgency against its rule, have warned that repealing the law would lead to widespread unrest.
"With this document we are committed to moving toward a new India," said Mr Rajnath Singh, Home Minister and head of the BJP's election manifesto committee.
"We will work on improving India's ranking in ease of doing business," Mr Singh said. "We will try to double exports."
The BJP is banking on the support of around 220 million Indians who have benefited directly from the government's flagship programmes, as well as a 750 billion rupee income support programme for small farmers and lower taxes for middle-class.
Mr Modi has been criticised by the opposition for not fulfilling his promise of creating 10 million jobs each year - a pledge that helped him win over young Indians in the 2014 election. The ruling party denies this charge.
The boost to infrastructure will also "lead to the creation of a large number of jobs and livelihood opportunities", the manifesto reads, noting that the government would target "untapped employment-generation of potential of sectors such as defence and pharmaceuticals".