Employment is the vote catcher in Uttarakhand & Harish Rawat is playing the cards well
The promise of employment remains the vote catcher in the hilly state of Uttarakhand. This is despite every party having promised jobs before all polls and then doing precious little for their generation.
It is this allurement of jobs that the Chief Minister Harish Rawat is playing up once again and doing so very successfully.
Rawat took a leaf from the Congress' Punjab campaign of offering a job to every household and till the time this is provided, the Congress is promising an unemployment allowance to every youth, between the ages of 18 to 35, who gets himself registered.
It is the launch of this registration and distribution of unemployment allowance cards that put rival BJP on tenterhooks and had them approaching the Election Commission (EC). BJP has been labelling the drive as a violation of the model code of conduct.
The EC has sent a notice to the party that put the registration drive for a 'Berozgari Bhatta Card' (unemployment allowance card) on hold. Congress has replied to the notice pointing out why they believe this is not a violation of the poll code of conduct.
A matter of numbers
The Congress campaign machinery claims that the number given for the unemployment registration continues to get calls in thousands. "When someone approaches us in person, we are asking him or her to furnish all details," said a functionary of the Congress campaign team.
The reason why there is a furore in BJP over this issue is because the youth reportedly account for 57% of the voters and will effectively decide who comes to power in the state.
Sources in the Congress disclosed that the number of people calling to register for job cards has already crossed 45,000 calls.
Under this drive, the Congress is promising one job per household for youth between the ages of 18 to 35 till 2020. They are also promising an allowance of Rs 2,500 per month via the 'Berozgari Bhatta Card' for 36 months till such employment is provided.
The party is also communicating that the youth will be given skill training and a stipend as a part of this program.
Sources say that the party was looking at the success of the flagship programme of promising a job to every house in Punjab, and that the Congress poll strategist, Prashant Kishor, advocated its replication in the hill state.
While its name in Punjab was 'Har Ghar toh Ik Captain' (A Captain from every household) it is named 'Har Sangh Harda' (Harish with everyone) in Uttarakhand.
Rawat has been saying, "This is not a mere promise, but a sankalp - our resolve to empower the youth of Uttarakhand by making them self sufficient."
To activate the card, the card-holder must SMS the Unique ID Number to 9235002222 from his or her mobile. They will then receive a four digit code, which they will write at the back of their card.
A Congress activist said that once activated, this card will ensure that the bearer can reach out to the Harda Government (once constituted) for skill training and unemployment allowance.
And just like Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab, Rawat too has given nine 'Sankalp Sutras' for the state.
Old timers and political observers in the state point out that this is not the first time that the issue of employment has been played up in the state, adding that the Congress had come to power on a similar agenda the last time as well.
The government under Vijay Bahuguna had also doled out an unemployment allowance for a few months before it came to an end. The government had initially reduced its unemployment doles to Rs 500- Rs 1,000 from the promised Rs 750- Rs 1,500 before stopping them.
The government had put several riders for availing the unemployment allowance including the one that said that the youths must have completed four years of registration with the unemployment exchange with effect from 9 November 2012.
In addition to this, the family income of such persons should be less than Rs 1 lakh per annum.
While the controversy over the issuing of 'Berozgari Bhatta Cards' rages on, the Congress and Prashant Kishor's IPAC team have launched a door-to-door campaign aiming to reach out to 10,000 homes every day.
The Congress has put on ground 70 volunteers and two IPAC members going door-to-door with the message 'Uttarakhand Rahe Khushhal, Rawat Poore Paanch Saal' (A five-year full term Rawat government for a prosperous Uttarakhand). Meanwhile, Rawat is continuing with his Uttarakhand Swabhiman Yatra.
The job issue
Right from its inception the job scenario in the state, particularly in the hill districts, has been very bleak. Whatever industrial development took place was in the plains and Terai areas of Udham Singh Nagar, Dehradun and Haridwar districts where industrial zones were developed under the State Industrial Development Corporation of Uttarakhand Limited (SIDCUL).
Most of the industries that came to these SIDCUL zones was under the regime of ND Tewari between 2002 and 2007. But there have been several issues regarding the employment generated in the SIDCUL units with employees often complaining about job security, less payment etc.
"The fact remains that these units triggered migration from the hills as all the governments till now have failed to take industry or employment avenue to the hills. This has led to several social fallouts. Till now the defence forces are the main source of employment for the population of the state," said a senior media person based in Dehradun.
He further pointed out that the recent demonetisation brought about by the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre proved to be a big blow on the industrial units in the plains and the Terai as these units were already facing problems on account of economic slowdown.
Demonetisation brought the chances of further employment generation to a stand still. It is also being pointed that demonetisation also had a cascading impact on the tourism industry of the state which is the mainstay of the local population in the hills. There was very little tourism activity in the state from 8 November onwards as the cash flow to the state reduced to a trickle.
"The ATM queues in Dehradun used to make people shudder. One can imagine what the scenario would have been in the hill districts," said a local resident.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen