Amid an ongoing debate over offering freebies to secure votes, the Congress on Monday announced 300 units of free electricity to household consumers and a financial assistance of Rs 1,500 per month to all women aged between 18 and 60 years if voted to power in Himachal Pradesh.
The Congress, which is seeking to wrest power from the BJP, also announced that the old pension scheme will be restored within 10 days of the party coming to power in the hill state. The announcements were made by Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel who is also Congress’s senior election observer for Himachal Pradesh.
With this, the Congress has finally opened its first cards for Himachal, which is likely to go to polls later this year. It has also formally entered into the war of freebies in the hill state where the Bharatiya Janata Party government led by Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, is already providing 125 units of electricity to household consumers for free since July 1.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is trying to make inroads in the state after its landlside win in Punjab polls earlier this year, had made a similar promise in April. The party’s then poll in-charge for Himachal Pradesh, Satyendar Jain, had announced that 300 units of free electricity would be provided to household consumers if the party is voted to power.
In Punjab, where it won 97 of the 117 Assembly seats in the elections held in February, the AAP had promised Rs 1,000 to all women above 18 years of age every month and 300 units of free electricity. With an eye on the Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, where too elections are likely by year-end, the AAP government in Punjab, led by Bhagwant Mann has partially implemented the promise of free power. The fund crunched state, however, has done noting so far on giving Rs 1,000 per month to women.
Baghel, who addressed a press conference in Shimla after holding a meeting with Congress’s state unit leaders, said the party will be setting aside Rs 680 crore to promote start-ups. People coming up with proposals for a start-up will be given Rs 10-crore corpus, free of interest, as seed money. The money will incentivize people to set up new businesses, the senior Congress leader said.
The party also promised 5 lakh jobs if voted to power.
Asked about availability of funds for the freebies being announced, Baghel, said, “We will make arrangements the way it is being done in other party-ruled states. It will not be done by increasing the prices of petrol and diesel, as is being done by the incumbent government”.
Baghel, who was accompanied by state Congress president Pratibha Singh, Leader of Opposition Mukesh Agnihotri, and state party campaign committee chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, said the promises will also be included in the poll manifesto, which will be released soon.
On CM face for the elections, Baghel said. “In states where we are in opposition, we fight elections on the basis of collective leadership. The decision regarding this (CM face) is taken by the high Command. It is not in anyone else’s hands. We won the bypolls…We are in a good position here.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had last month cautioned people against what he called a “revadi culture” of offering freebies for votes and said this was “very dangerous” for the development of the country. AAP national convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, however, claimed that an atmosphere is being created against free government welfare services by terming them freebies, rather than planning to strengthen them. “There are some people who call the provision of free education, free treatment by government facilities as ‘rewadi’ or ‘freebies’. An atmosphere is being created in the country against provisions of free education at government schools and free treatment at government hospitals”. He said those who oppose such things, should be called “traitors”.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court, hearing a plea seeking directions against freebies, sought suggestions from petitioners and respondents on the composition of a committee which can go into the issue “dispassionately” and make recommendations.