Humbled in the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls, Congress governments particularly in the states going to polls by year end are desperately distributing sops to show a turn around by luring electorate. But many in the Congress headquarters are not sure, if these sops at an eleventh hour without any ground work and a change in leadership in these states would prove a saving grace.
The latest was from the Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who approved a proposal to reserve 16% of government jobs and seats in educational institutions for Marathas and 5% for Muslims. The Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) combine had managed to win here just six out of 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state in the 2014 general elections. The idea, which originally was floated by the NCP chief Sharad Pawar didn’t find takers in the Congress till they were humbled in the Lok Sabha polls.
Facing an uncertain future, Chavan took it up last week with the Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The chief minister after convincing her that the sops will benefit some 40% of population, Mrs. Gandhi gave a go ahead. However, a number of Muslim groups, who interacted with Pawar last Saturday at a closed door meeting in Mumbai questioned the timing of the decision. “At this hour, it will only polarise voters on communal lines, give a baton to the BJP and consolidate Hindus against us and also there is no time to accrue benefits to show it to Muslims,” a community leader, who participated in the discussions told dna. He felt the Maharashtra government should have announced and implemented the decision at least two-three years ago, to carry its benefits to elections.
Similarly in other poll-bound state of Haryana, the chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who managed to retain just one Lok Sabha seat regularised one lakh contractual workers, which also included granting permanent jobs to 5200 Haryana Roadways employees. He is now planning to set up a separate Shrimoni Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC) for 4% Sikhs in Hayarana. This will not only cut their umbilical cord with Akali politics in Punjab, but will also ensure better upkeep of their gurudwaras in Haryana.
In the cash strapped state of Jammu and Kashmir, which is also going to polls by the year end, the Congress-National Conference (NC) combine government, embarked on regularising 40,000 casual labourers and 55,000 contractual teachers, who had completed five years in teaching. In this state, both the alliance partners failed to open account in the Lok Sabha polls.
Other sops announced after the defeat by the chief minister Omar Abdullah were increasing retirement age of government employees from 58 to 60 years and for university teachers and medical faculty from 60 to 62 years. These decisions stare at the labelling economy of the state, which is facing a debt of Rs 45310 crore and is paying Rs 3500 crore as interest on it every year. Prominent civil society member and former president of Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir (FCIK), Shakeel Qalandar calculates that Jammu and Kashmir gets just Rs 11248 crores from tax and non- tax revenue while Rs 5000 crore is pooled in from centre allotted funds, ending up a total of Rs 16248 crore. But currently just a salary and pension bill of the government is Rs 18445 crore. The current sops of increasing the retirement age will inflate it further.