Gujarat elections: Congress manifesto focuses on youth, Patel reservation
Ahmedabad: The Congress on Monday released its manifesto for the Gujarat elections with special focus on youth, agriculture and Patel quota among its highlights.
The 60-page “People’s Manifesto—2017” attempts to address several issues that have sparked unrest in the state.
From farm loan waiver to slashing of power tariff by half to a Rs32,000 crore outlay for 2.5 million unemployed youth and free housing for single women to free laptops and regulation of education fees, the party has promised several populist measures in an attempt to dislodge the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that has been in power in the state for the last 22 years.
Congress leaders Ashok Gehlot and Bharatsinh Solanki released the manifesto in Ahmedabad for the Gujarat elections, which will be held in two phases on 9 and 14 December.
Earlier this month, Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel had announced support for the Congress, which it said, had accepted its demand for giving reservation for the Patel community for jobs and education.
“Patidar Andolan for reservation in Gujarat has given impetus to the demands and feelings of the people belonging to the non-reservation category of the state for equal opportunity in education and employment,” the party said in the manifesto.
The party, if voted to power, promised an unemployment allowance of up to Rs4,000 a month for every jobless youth. The Congress has been raising the issue of rising unemployment in Gujarat and lack of opportunities in the state.
Farm distress and lack of job opportunities are believed to be the two main reasons cited by the three youth leaders including OBC leader Alpesh Thakor, Hardik Patel and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani for their protests against the BJP government. All the three leaders have said that they would support the Congress in defeating the BJP in the state elections.
As per the formula for reservation which was accepted by PAAS earlier, Congress said it will, without making any changes in the present 49% reservation of backward communities, propose a bill based on the provisions in Article 46, after considering Article 31 (C) of the Constitution.
It will have provisions to provide benefits, on a par with the OBCs, to a ‘special category’ of those communities mentioned in the Article 46 which were not getting benefits under the Articles 15 (4) and 16 (4).
Apart from this “special category”, the Congress also announced the formation of an Economically Backward Class commission that will help in meeting the objective of providing equal opportunity for the educational and economic development of the deprived people among the upper castes.
The party said remunerative minimum support price for agriculture produce would be declared before the beginning of the sowing season. If voted to power, the party will also provide 16 hour electricity during daytime to farmers and provide free water for irrigation besides offering effective crop insurance.
“Gujarat is at a crossroad. The Gujarat model of development with focus on big factories, big projects and foreign direct investment has been a top-down approach. This development model has ignored the farmers, SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), women, students and traders. What we need is a bottom-up approach, rooted in Gandhian values, focusing on family, culture. The Gandhian model of development will focus on the talents and needs of the people of Gujarat,” Solanki said.
The party promised to abolish the contentious contract system in government employment, fill up all government vacancies and make contract employees permanent.
The Congress also promised homes for all women in the state, a 24-hour toll-free phone and single-window women help centre, ‘Pink Transport’ facility for women, free education from primary to higher education and setting up a fast track court for crimes against women. To curb inflation, Congress has promised it would cut state taxes on petro products and bring down their prices by Rs10 per litre, cut power tariffs by 50% and reduce power tariff to Rs2/unit (for usage up to 200 units per month), among others.
Solanki said the Congress would also set up a special investigation team (SIT) to investigate allegations of financial irregularities during BJP rule in the state. “The SIT will probe all allegations of irregularities of over Rs100,000 crore as highlighted in CAG reports and other reports in the past,” he said.
“It is a good thing that Congress is talking about bottom-up approach. However, economic restructuring has not been thought of clearly and jobless growth has also not been referred to in the manifesto. While the Congress is trying to appease all, the manifesto has perhaps not developed a solid critique of over two decades of non-Congress rule,” said Sudarshan Iyenger, a political observer and former vice-chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapith.