The Punjab Congress seems to be in overdrive, launching populist campaigns back to back. In the last one week, the party has launched two major campaigns, besides state Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh carrying out a roadshow on his home turf in Patiala and neighbouring Sangrur districts.
These populist campaigns are coming thick and fast just before the declaration of candidates, which is expected in the first week of December.
This is going to be an acid test for the party, as its fortunes depend mainly on fielding winnable candidates and taming internal rebellions, which have become the trend in the recent past.
A Captain from every house
The latest campaign, being described as the party's flagship programme, is 'Har Ghar Ton Ikk Captain' (A Captain from every house), which promises a job to every household. As a back up, an an unemployment allowance is planned in the interim, along with a vow to wean the youth of the state away from drugs.
The Congress has got 600-odd ticket aspirants to implement the campaign, giving them registration kits along with 100 forms each and asking them to train their workers. The campaign will then be taken forward at the district level through these trained workers.
Ticket seekers are being asked to reach out to 10,000 youth each as part of the campaign. The registration has started, and the first phase of the campaign is to culminate on 20 December.
The Congress intends to reach out to 40 lakh households in the first phase. The youth, in exchange, would have to pledge to stay drug-free as part of the campaign, which is themed around catchy slogan of 'Captain ne saun chakki har ghar ikk naukri pakki' (Captain has taken the pledge to give a job to every house).
The mass registration drive will see applicants being provided a unique ID through a 'Berozgari Bhatta Card' (unemployment allowance card), which they can activate by dialling a number and entering the card details to complete of their registration.
The party has promised that a budget of Rs 10,000 crore would be set aside for the initiative, which will roll out within the first 100 days of Amarinder taking over the state's reigns.
Amarinder said the programme aims to provide one job per household to youth between the age of 18 and 35. "Till such employment is provided, unemployment allowance of Rs 2,500 per month would be given for up to 36 months," he said, adding that such campaigns are aimed at stemming the anger and distress brewing among the youth and other sections of the society, who are 'extremely disgruntled' under the present dispensation in the state.
Referring to the farm debt waiver campaign launched earlier by the party, he claimed that the campaign has seen the registration of 34 lakh verified forms.
50 lakh smartphones
The new campaign follows another populist campaign launched by Amarinder just a week ago. That one promises 50 lakh smartphones, with one year of free data and calling, to the youth, in a bid to 'empower them and connect them digitally with the world', once the Congress comes to power.
The party claims that this campaign, too, has witnessed 15 lakh registrations.
Media reports from the districts say that mostly males have shown an enthusiasm for it.
Amarinder had invited the youth via Twitter to register on captainsmartconnect.com - a website set up exclusively for the purpose. The Congress claims that Amarinder's Facebook profile, which went live with the event, witnessed 1,200 likes and 8,200 views in the first hour of the launch.
The scheme will cost about Rs 300 crore to 400 crore a year after the initial investment in the first year. Amarinder said the allocation will be made in the state budget itself to fund the scheme, as part of the youth welfare programme of his government, once he takes over.
Explaining the rationale behind the scheme, Amarinder said even though one-third of Punjab's population consisted of youth in the 18-35 age group, this section has remained backward, and large scale unemployment is pushing the youth to drugs and other problems, making it important for the government to connect with them.
He pointed that at 13.5%, Punjab has the country's highest unemployment rate in the age group of 15 to 29 years. He added that this initiative would enable him, once in power, to build the bridges with the youth and provide them with the necessary opportunity for growth by empowering them digitally.
Congress leaders are expecting a surge in registrations as the deadline, 30 November, draws closer. Congress workers, supported by the party's student and youth wings - NSUI and Indian Youth Congress, as well as team members of poll strategist Prashant Kishor's firm IPAC, have come out in full force to ensure smooth and streamlined registrations through special desks set up near colleges, coaching centres, market areas, and even ATM queues.
Amarinder a man of the people?
In between the launch of these two campaigns, the party held a roadshow in parts of Patiala and Sangrur over the weekend, which saw an effort being made to depict Amarinder as a man of the masses, and not as the head of the Patiala royal family, as rivals Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) want to project him.
He was meeting people and interacting with groups on issues like unemployment, farm crisis, and even One Rank One Pension (OROP) for the ex-servicemen.
The smartphone campaign drew scathing remarks from the AAP leadership, which termed it as the "biggest joke" on people of Punjab. AAP's national convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, in fact, said forget smartphones, the Congress and the Akalis may even distribute 'Chitta' (a popular drug) along with the devices to woo the people of Punjab, who have already decided to reject them in the forthcoming elections.
"Now the Congress has offered smartphones and very soon, (cabinet minister Bikram Singh) Majithia may come out with the offer to distribute 'Chitta' along with the smartphones free of cost among youth," he said.
AAP leader and Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann went a step further, saying: "You all know that Congress has hired Prashant Kishor, the same poll strategist hired by Narendra Modi, and it was on Kishor's advice that he (Modi) promised to deposit Rs 15 lakh in everybody's account by bringing black money from Swiss banks, but later on BJP termed it as 'chunavi jumla'."
He added that now the same Kishor has advised a 'chunavi jumla' to his new boss, Amarinder.
It remains to be seen how seriously the people of the state take the populist promises coming their way. There is a view among Congress workers that to have more impact, Amarinder needs to personally take these promises to the people.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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