Maintaining the tempo of its aggressive campaign, the Congress party has come out with its poll manifesto for the forthcoming Punjab Assembly polls. The document is a blueprint prepared to address the key issues that Punjab is facing, ranging from drug abuse to unemployment, and a promise of rejuvenating the industry within 90 days of taking over the administration.
The manifesto has been brought out along with a 10-page charge sheet against the decade-long Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP regime which the Congress holds squarely responsible for the ills plaguing Punjab.
A crackdown on drugs and other mafias, a series of wide-ranging new legislations to control important administrative and legal functions, time-bound steps to bolster employment and revive agriculture and industry, ending of VIP culture and bringing the marginalised and minorities back into the societal mainstream, are the key highlights of the 120-page manifesto.
The manifesto was released by renowned economist and former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in New Delhi along with its simultaneous release in six other cities of Punjab by senior party leaders.
Issues that will matter
While releasing the manifesto, Singh said, "Punjab is a state with tremendous unexploited potential. This potential has not been exploited because of mismanagement of the government in the last 10 years. The challenge before Punjab is to rise above all this din and recognise that the people of Punjab need a better tomorrow. This election manifesto is a visionary document which promises the people of Punjab that we will undo the damage done to the Punjab economy by the previous government in the last 10 years. I sincerely believe that Punjab is headed for better times under the leadership of Captain Amarinder Singh."
The former prime minister also claimed that demonetisation is an important election issue which will feature in all five poll-bound states, including Punjab.
He added, "Demonetisation will harm the country's GDP. The national income unit of the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) has come out with the statement that the GDP growth would be 7.1% as against the target of 7.6% but this does not account the effects of demonetisation. When that is taken into account you will see that there will be significant adverse effects on the country's GDP."
Meanwhile, the blueprint on drugs in the election manifesto announces a zero-tolerance policy for smugglers, peddlers, police officials, politicians, bureaucrats or public indulging in drug trafficking besides constitution of fast-track courts to try out The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, cases.
The Congress has also proposed a 'Confiscation of Drug Dealers Property Act' within 30 days of assuming power besides a review of cases registered against drug users, besides a vigorous campaign to educate the young, the party has promised compassionate free rehabilitation with skill training initiatives at de-addiction centres. The Congress plans to do away with the menace in four weeks.
It deals at length with the rampant drug abuse accusing the SAD-BJP government of mortgaging the future of young Punjabis to the rapidly rising drug mafia while pointing that drug lords are active members of the SAD-BJP regime.
The party also wants to close down 5% liquor vends every year.
No corruption, no VIPs
The manifesto further says that the Congress government will make it mandatory for all MLAs to make their salaries, allowances etc public by putting it online, with MPs and MLAs required to compulsorily declare their immovable properties every year on the floor of the state assembly.
A zero-tolerance policy against corruption will be stringently followed. All government expenditure will be subjected to a third-party audit, says the manifesto.
The Congress has also promised to bring out a White Paper exposing SAD-BJP claims on governance, development and financial situation of the state while reconstituting the Governance Reforms Commission as Governance Reforms and Ethics Commission (GREC).
The party manifesto deals with various issues categorically. Its proposal on ending the VIP culture includes abolishing red beacon lights except on emergency vehicles, 90% cut in security personnel for politicians and officials, and a two-year ban on foreign travel except where mandatory.
On the emotive issue of sharing the Punjab waters, the party has reiterated that no new canal construction, including the controversial Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL), will be allowed and the intra-state river water distribution and infrastructure will be strengthened.
To build up on its flagship election campaign of offering a job to every household, the Congress has proposed a Shaheed Bhagat Singh Employment Generation scheme.
It plans to provide one lakh taxis, commercial and other vehicles per year to unemployed youth at subsidised rates along with 25,000 tractors with other tools. It has promised compulsory recruitment of local youth by industrial investors along with the establishment of employment bureaus manned by qualified professionals.
The party has once again promised an unemployment allowance of Rs 2,500 per month till job are provided to those registered with the bureaus. Incentives are on the cards for those making use of smart digital technology for generating employment.
Looking towards the revival of existing industrial units, the Congress wants to set up an industrial urban corridor between Amritsar and Chandigarh along the GT Road axis and along Hoshiarpur-Gurdaspur Road apart from creating a new land bank for industrial development.
It has promised to freeze the power tariff for industry at Rs 5 per unit for the next five years. The party roadmap also includes enhancement of industrial development fund to Rs 1,000 crore and special budgetary allocation for industrial development.
Apart from this, there are special provisions to strengthen hosiery industry etc., development of sports goods industry with a new focal point exclusively on Jalandhar and an exclusive research and development centre, special measures to promote rice shelling industry and elimination of inspector raj.
Reaching out to the farmers
To deal with the distressed agriculture sector that has been marked with farmer suicides, the grand old party has promised -
- A loan waiver
- Continuation of free power to farmers
- New law to prevent sale and auction of farmers' land by lending agencies
- A farmers' pension scheme
- Raising ex-gratia to families of suicide victims to Rs 10 lakh
- An increase in crop compensation and crop insurance
The party has come out with an elaborate plan aiming to win over the Dalits and minorities of the state. It needs to be kept in mind that Punjab has the highest percentage of Dalit population with the community comprising almost 32% of the total population.
The Congress manifesto promises a free house or five marla land to homeless families with an annual income less than Rs 5 lakh. It has promised strict enforcement of reservation in government jobs besides a job for at least one person in every family.
Playing the caste card, the party wants to enhance OBC reservation in government jobs from 12% to 15%. And double it in educational institutions from 5% to 10%. It has also proposed a loan waiver for minorities for self-employment.
Education & women
The party has promised regularisation of contractual teachers and 33% job reservation for women in government jobs including contractual ones.
It wants to provide free education to girls from class one to PhD. Another promise to women includes crisis centres in all districts against domestic violence.
The 10-page charge sheet against SAD-BJP combine government points to 'Loot, Boot and Shoot' policy while listing out the multiple failures.
Saying that 'it's a SAD BAD show here', the charge sheet underlines 'why it's imperative for the people of Punjab to rid themselves of a decade of SAD-BJP misrule' and accuses the Badal government of dragging the state and its people 'into a deep abyss of fiscal deficit, economic mess, lawlessness, policy paralysis and a shameful decline in uprightness'.
The document is led by a section on 'Family First - the family comes first while the state goes to dumps' pointing out how a few individuals had turned multi-millionaires while the state dipped to low levels of economic growth and income.
The Congress has also charged the Badal government with demolishing institutions and structures, robbing them of their own powers and autonomy.
The charge sheet points at length towards drug, mining, liquor, land, cable, transport and lottery mafias along various scams. It details how the system has collapsed in Punjab leading to a 'jungle raj' besides policy paralysis and depriving the marginalised of their rights.
Promises too big?
While the Congress has made these elaborate promises to the masses, questions remain how it will be able to deliver on them or whether the document will go down as just another poll manifesto.
The political opponents SAD-BJP combine and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have already been raising questions on the promises that the Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh has been making.
On his flagship campaign on jobs to every household AAP has been saying that the number of jobs being promised far exceeds the number of sanctioned jobs in the state. The Akalis have been pointing to drug menace taking root during the previous Congress regime. They have also been asking what Amarinder had achieved during his previous regime.
A major challenge before the Congress when it takes the manifesto before the masses would be to explain how different it is from what AAP has been offering when it comes to issues like the tackling drug menace, addressing farm distress and rejuvenating the industry.
The promises that the two have been making for the last one year have been overlapping. While the AAP leadership has been coming out with sector-specific manifestos, the Congress has been accusing it of copying its ideas and promising what it has been saying. The same debate is going to continue.
The Akalis will be playing up the infrastructural and other developments that have taken place during their regime. They have also been playing up Punjab becoming a power surplus state under them.
It remains to be seen how they counter the Congress manifesto and above all the charge sheet that the party has brought out against the Badals (Chief Minister Parkash Singh and his son Sukhbir) and their government.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen