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Game of words

As we move from 2004 to 2019, ‘Indians’ trumps ‘India’, ‘government’ takes a back seat, and the Congress definitely played the ‘national’ card. Let’s take a look at the most-used words by political parties in their manifestos

It’s another election year, and with it comes another round of heavily-loaded manifestos promising a pot of gold at the end of the five-year-rainbow. Over the years, manifestos have evolved—or devolved, depending on how you look at it—into a party’s pre-election trump card, giving them a final boost before polling begins.

The same manifestos used to be a way for the media as well as the electorate to hold a party accountable during its five-year-tenure if it was voted into power at the Centre. Now, they’ve become all about hollow promises and agendas that circumvent that of their political rivals. An analysis of the most-used words in the manifestos of different parties shows us a clear picture of the different tactics and appeals made by political parties in different election years.

It also shows us how the rise of nationalism kicked in—and won. “Indians” trumped “India” while “government” was pushed lower down the ranks. But no matter how you look at it, whether it is party-wise or year-wise, the undisputed contender of the most-used word in manifestos is the word “will”. Although manifestos are all about relaying one’s promises to the electorate in the future of its five-year-tenure at the Centre (if it wins), it comes as no surprise that the futuristic “will” tops the list with the highest frequency.

After all, there is no real power vested with voters and the electorate in a democracy to truly hold the government accountable for the promises it made in ink—except for maybe not voting for them in the next election year.

During the 2009 general election, the most-used word by the Congress in its manifesto was “national” which was used a total of 169 times. Are you surprised that the Congress overplayed the “national” card? In second place was the word “Indian” (149 times) and then “will” (147 times). The others were Congress (138), government (46), India (34), new (32), years (30), people (27), and country (26).

The element of nationalism shines through when you look at the top two most-used words in the 2009 Congress manifesto. By the time 2014 came around, the grand old party stuck to the same tone, keeping the top three most-used words pretty much unchanged. “Will” occupied first place with a frequency of 387 times, followed by “national” (227 times), and “Indian” (200 times). Other words in the top 10 list of the party’s most-used words in its 2014 manifesto were “Congress” in fourth place with a frequency of 187, “ensure” (111), “India” (62), “government” (52), “development” (54), “continue” (51) and “scheduled” (51).

The INC lost the election miserably that year.

Earlier in 2004, the BJP’s manifesto on its website had the same word—will—as the most used word, a staggering 591 times. This was followed by government (87 times) and development (70 times). The other words in the top 10 list were years (76), India (75), five (61), NDA (59), national (55), sector (54) and India’s (51).

While most of the top 10 words remain the same throughout the BJP’s 2004, 2009, and 2014 manifesto, the order of their ranking keeps shifting.

In its 2009 manifesto, the BJP’s most used word was “will” which it used a total of 358 times, followed by BJP (155) and India (98). If you compare this to the 2004 manifesto, “BJP” replaced “government” from its previous manifesto, and has been used at nearly double the frequency. The other words in the top 10 list included government (60)—which was funnily not a word that was most used in the party’s 2004 manifesto at all—Sabha (52), election (51), Lok (51), manifesto (51) and development (49).

When the party finally came to power in a landslide victory during the 2014 Lok Sabha election, “will” still remained the most used word (326 times). However, the word “India” trumped the previous election year’s second-most used word “BJP” and was used a total of 135 times in the party’s 2014 manifesto. The third spot, previously occupied by the word “India” in 2009, was replaced with the party’s name itself, “BJP,” and was used a total of 98 times.

So after making promises that will be fulfilled in the future tense—followed by a one-two punch of nationalism with the words “India” and “BJP” in an attempt to make them sound synonymous—the other words in the 2014 manifesto with high frequency were “development” (79 times), followed by “national” (78), “government” (71), “technology” (56), “country” (54), “education” (52) and “ensure” (50).

Let’s break away from the party-wise view of most-used words in manifestos and look at the words highest in frequency across all the party manifestos in any year.

Let’s begin with 2004. The word “will” was in first place with a frequency of 616 times, followed by “government” being used 157 times, and “India” in third place with it being used 95 times. This trend changed slightly during the next election in 2009. Although “will” remained the top contender, in second place was the word “national” with a frequency of 278 times. “Government” dropped to third place with a frequency of 255 times. Interestingly, the word “India” dropped down to occupy a measly seventh position in 2009 with a frequency of 159 times.

In 2014—the year when BJP won the general election with a landslide victory based on its nationalistic and development-of-the-nation appeal—“India” rose up through the ranks to fourth place with a frequency of a whopping 222 times. This was the highest number of times the word was used since 2004. Want to know the words that trumped “India” though in 2014? They were “national” (330) and “Indian” (245).

Let’s take a closer look at the wordplay employed in the Congress’ 2019 manifesto. Obviously “will” occupied first place, and was used by the party in its manifesto a staggering 581 times—more number of times than the word was ever used by it in its 2004, 2009, or 2014 manifestos. This was followed by the name of the party itself (“Congress”) 397 times.

In third place is a word that is a new contender—“promises”—used 204 times in the party’s 2019 manifesto. It’s closely followed by “India” (100) and “government” (88). “Education” is at 16th position, while “work” is 19th.

Keeping in mind the Congress vow to fill 22 lakh government vacancies if it comes to power at the Centre, what really stands out the most is that the word “jobs” ranks 51st on the list of most used words by the party in its 2019 manifesto.

(The BJP had not released its manifesto when this was written.)