In the run-up to the Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls, the race for “freebies” seems to have caught up with both the traditional rivals, BJP and Congress, to lure voters. However, the saffron party is much ahead of the grand old party in offering sops in the hill state, despite PM Narendra Modi slamming the culture of freebies at the expense of taxpayers’ money last month.
BJP has offered eight lakh jobs in its ‘Sankalp Patra’ while Congress promised five lakh in its ‘Pratigya Patra’. However, neither has clarified how they would generate these opportunities. Both have promised multi-crore corpus for start-ups to lure the youth.
To woo employees, the Congress party is banking on Old Pension Scheme (OPS) by claiming that it will be passed in the first cabinet once the party comes to power. But the party is silent on where the funds will come from when the state is already under heavy debt.
The BJP is silent on the OPS, but trying to match the Congress by promising to increase dearness allowances (DA) from 34 percent to 38 percent, doubling the allowance given for serving in the tribal and remote areas, and linking the pay with the central pay commission.
To lure farmers, BJP proposes to introduce ‘Mukhyamantri Annadaata Samman Nidhi’ to provide Rs 3,000 annually to small cultivators as a top-up to Rs 6,000 already given under PM Kisan Samaan Nidhi.
In the education sector, the saffron party is promising free transport in government buses for all students enrolled in government institutions. Besides, free tablets with SIM cards for students of class 10th to 12th. Free education up to graduation for all students in schools and colleges is also on the agenda.
However, Congress does not have any major cash incentive for students in its manifesto.
In the name of women’s empowerment, the saffron party is promising bicycles for school-going girls in classes 6th to 12th and scooty for those girls pursuing higher education.
Interest-free loans to women entrepreneurs, loans to women self-help groups at 2 percent, Rs 25,000 to pregnant women, three LPG cylinders to women of poor households, and Rs 2,500 scholarship to the top 5,000 ranked female students graduating class 12th from government schools are the other doles for women.
The BJP doesn’t end here, but promises a 33 percent reservation for women in government jobs and educational institutions.
On the other hand, Congress has promised Rs 1,500 to women between the age of 18 years to 60 years.
Women are an important segment as they have been outnumbering males in voting in state polls since 1998. Under social welfare, BJP intends to provide financial assistance of Rs 20,000 to one lakh senior citizens, from BPL families, for conducting pilgrimage. For students belonging to the BPL category, 100 percent scholarships for professional courses are offered. Besides, scholarships of Rs 4,000 to Rs 10,000 to children of safai karamcharis are also promised.
Congress says it will reduce the lower limit of disability for a disability pension from 40 percent to 25 percent, and give subsidies for constructing ‘pucca’ houses.
After criticism of the ‘Agniveer scheme’ in the hill state, where joining the army is a passion for many, the saffron party has listed a number of financial incentives for the Agniveers after completion of their four-year service.
When questioned on the doles, BJP National President JP Nadda said these are not freebies, but their commitment to empowering people. Whereas, Rajya Sabha MP and state Congress in-charge Rajeev Shukla described BJP’s manifesto as ‘Jumla Patra’ to lure voters.
“They are silent about issues concerning government employees including OPS,” he added.