Cow dung to allowance for women, Congress has something for everyone in Himachal

Cow dung to allowance for women, Congress has something for everyone in Himachal

The Congress announced a monthly allowance of Rs 1,500 to women in the age group of 18 to 60 years, upping the Rs 1,000 promised by Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia the same day. At 24,57,032 (based on data from the 2017 Assembly elections), women form a little less than half of the electorate in the state. Though AAP is yet to fulfil the same promise that it had made in Punjab, it did succeed in resonating with a large chunk of women voters.

The Congress also reached out to government employees – who form a formidable vote bank in Himachal – by promising to restore the Old Pension Scheme (OPS), which has been a long-pending demand.

The clamour for the restoration of the scheme, which was abolished by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003, has been growing ever since the Congress governments of Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan and Bhupesh Baghel in Chhattisgarh did the same earlier this year. The JMM-led government in Jharkhand is also set to restore the OPS from October 1.

Himachal’s BJP government, under Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, had set up a panel to study its feasibility this February, but no further step was taken. And the state’s heavy debt burden of over Rs 80,000 crore might make the rollback difficult.

Taking another leaf from the AAP in Punjab, the Congress has promised free electricity up to 300 units to every household.

Apple orchardists, who have been growing increasingly restless due to diminishing returns, have been told that they would be given the freedom to fix the right price for their fruits. The Congress also promised to buy 10 litres of milk every day from cow and buffalo owners in the state.

To address the growing unemployment in a state that saw a large number of youngsters return to the hills during the pandemic, the Congress has assured employment to five lakh youth and a startup fund of Rs 680 crore. Free mobile clinics and English-medium schools in every constituency, the USP of AAP, are now a part of the Congress’s 10-point pledge.

While it might seem like many of the promises have been taken out of the AAP’s playbook, the imprint of Chhatisgarth CM Baghel, who announced the pledges, is evident. The promise of purchasing cow dung at the rate of Rs 2 per kg is part of the Godhan Nyay Yojana scheme Baghel started two years ago. Under the scheme, his state has also recently started buying cow urine.

The 10 pledges come a week after the resignation of senior party leader Anand Sharma from the Congress steering committee and may have succeeded in taking away public attention from the intra-party bickering: Sharma, miffed at not being invited to poll-related meetings, has openly spoken of fissures within the party and its general mismanagement.

This is also the first time the party will be contesting an Assembly election without Virbhadra Singh, the six-time, longest serving CM of the hill state. He passed away in July 2021.

Without the veteran’s leadership, the party could face opposition from within as many leaders, who had remained in the background during Singh’s lifetime, are now eyeing the top post. This was evident in the murmurs within the party when the high command replaced state party president Kuldeep Singh Rathore with Singh’s widow Pratibha Singh in April, even as he claimed credit for the party’s win in bypolls and two municipal council elections last year.

But the Congress is conveying the message of a united leadership. A few weeks ago, Congress’s state in-charge, Rajeev Shukla, communicated through the rank and file of the organisation that it will not name a chief ministerial face in the run-up to the polls and that its performance would be a joint responsibility of president Pratibha Singh, Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Mukesh Agnihotri, campaign committee chairman Sukhwinder Sukhu, and manifesto committee chairman Dhaniram Shandil.

It is also taking heart from its success in those October 2021 bypolls when the party managed to win both the Lok Sabha seat of Mandi – represented by Virbhadra’s wife Pratibha Singh – and three Assembly seats (Fatehpur, Arki, and Jubbal Kotkhai). CM Thakur had then blamed the BJP’s loss on popular anger against price rise, which continues to be a pain point for the state which suffered heavy losses during the pandemic after its tourism industry, one of the main sources of revenue, shut down.

Whether the Congress leaders walk the talk remains to be seen. But the party’s 10 pledges seem to be striking a chord with the public.