Only on paper

In the last few days, India was hit by severe hit waves that even caused deaths in some parts of the country. Last year was the second warmest year India has ever seen.

Only on paper

Representation image

In the last few days, India was hit by severe hit waves that even caused deaths in some parts of the country. Last year was the second warmest year India has ever seen. In fact, between the last Parliament election and the present one, the country has confronted a significant number of climate disasters including excessive rainfall, flooding, droughts, and heat waves. Only a few months back, the country watched the rescue operation of the workers trapped in the Uttarkashi tunnel that seemed even more thrilling than a thriller on screen. The question is: will these disasters matter in the 18th Parliament election? Has climate change become that important an issue as to have a visible impact on deciding who hoists the tricolour on 15 August this year?

Unlike some previous years, most political parties have taken the issue of Climate Change seriously in their manifestos this year. The BJP manifesto promises to achieve energy independence by 2047 and meet the 500 GW target for renewable energy installed capacity by 2030. It has also declared that the new NDA Government would establish a Centre of Excellence for clean energy technologies and convert India into a global manufacturing hub for wind, solar and green hydrogen technologies. The BJP has further promised to strengthen a few already existing government programmes and initiatives, such as the Green Credit programme, water conservation or soil improvements, the carbon credit programme (that rewards people with encashable credits for reducing carbon emissions) and the green credit programme that rewards people with credits for any positive work done for the environment.

The party has promised to launch programmes for improving the health of the rivers using the Namami Gange project as a model. The manifesto also declares that the new Government will establish a National Atmospheric Mission, called, ‘Mausam’ for making India ‘weather ready’ and ‘climate smart.’ Interestingly, the rivalry between the Indian National Congress and the BJP is not reflected in their manifestos in regard to their respective stances on climate change. Instead, there are a lot of commonalities between the manifestos of the two arch rivals. They seem to be birds of a feather.


The manifesto of the Congress, in fact, has not entirely junked the Narendra Modi government’s take on climate change. It has, for instance, adopted the goal of net zero by 2070 and mapped out the party’s path towards that end saying, “In order to facilitate the funding required for Green Transition and to achieve the goal of net zero by 2070, we will set up the Green Transition Fund of India together with state governments and the private sector.”

The Congress has also promised to form an ‘independent’ Environment Protection and Climate Change Authority, to monitor and enforce environmental standards and the national and state level climate change action plans. The party has further declared that it would transform the National Action Plan on Climate Change, originally launched in 2008 and still in use, into a National Climate Resilience Development Mission that would integrate climate positive actions in all areas of development.

The Left parties were the first in India to keep significant portions on climate change in their manifestos. Sticking to the tradition, this time also, the CPIM has declared that the party would “evolve a National Adaptation Plan (NAP) through a participatory process involving all stakeholders especially states to tackle climate impacts such as on agriculture, extreme rainfall and related landslides and urban flooding, heat waves and urban heat islands, coastal erosion and sea-level calling.” It has also promised to “evolve sustainable and environment/climate-friendly development strategies for the fragile Himalayan region and eco-sensitive regions of Western Ghats and the North-East.”

The CPI-M, in fact, is the only national party that has explicitly mentioned the highly sensitive word ‘coal’ in its manifesto promising to “hand-over all the private allotted unexplored coal blocks to Coal India Ltd.” It has further promised to reduce the dependence on imported coal and to initiate “a judicial inquiry into the fraudulent coal import by private companies.” Such a take is very much in tune with the party’s age-old fight against the privatization of the natural resources of the country. While the manifestos of different political parties show their written commitment to the fight against climate change, one is bound to question how much of this rhetoric remains on paper and how much is heard in the ongoing election campaign? Not much, indeed.

The election campaign across the country seems to be governed mainly by religious division and fanaticism, identity politics and some other issues, such as, the need for a stable government, for good governance and a leader’s guarantee to provide free food grains to 80 crore people via PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, houses to all through the PM Awas Yojana and health insurance for all via the PM Jan Arogya Yojana. Unemployment and corruption are also being highlighted, as are some local/regional issues in certain pockets of the country. None of the important leaders has yet been seen to address the issue of climate change in a big way in their speeches.

Why are the parties which are so vocal on climate change in their manifestos practicing verbal reticence in the actual campaign? One reason for this silence is the insignificance of climate change as an issue to have an impact on the vote bank. The masses in India, in spite of suffering from scorching heat waves or becoming victims of natural calamities like floods and landslides, are yet to understand the deadening impact that climate change would have on livelihoods in future. The immediate need makes them blind to the crisis awaiting them in the near future. To them, earning bread today is much more important than contemplating on what they will have tomorrow.

In fact, what concern can those people show for climate change who live on footpaths in the most unhygienic conditions in almost every city or town of India? How can we expect a footpath-dweller to use a jute bag in place of a cheap plastic one? Despite being a monstrous reality, in a country like India, climate change is still an issue that only a section of the middle class bothers about. Greed makes the rich trample over it and poverty makes the poor ignore it. This is why to the political parties, by and large, climate change is an issue that needs to be ideologically addressed on paper during the election but not to be made an issue of in the actual campaign.

In fact, the absence of climate change as an important issue in the election campaign for the 2024 Parliament Election clearly suggests that the models to fight against climate change adopted by the first world Western countries will miserably fail in a country like ours. Like so many other issues, it is difficult for the Global South to come to an agreement with the Global North on the issue of the global war on climate change as well. The fight against climate change can never succeed in the Global South if it fails to fight poverty.

(The writer is Professor, Department of English and Culture Studies, and Director, Centre for Australian Studies, The University of Burdwan, India)