Earlier this month, Gujarat Congress marked late Rajiv Gandhi’s birth anniversary by announcing the opening of around 550 booths in Gujarat which will distribute forms to Gujarati women for availing cheap urban-housing. The scheme, which Gujarat Congress has named Ghar nu Ghar, is designed at attracting votes from women in urban areas, traditionally known to be loyal BJP voters, by registering them under the scheme; a scheme that will be implemented if Gujarat Congress assumes power.
The Congress has been saying that over 28 lakh women have rushed to sign up. While this move by the Congress has apparently activated Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to revitalise Gujarat Housing Board (GHB) – the body in charge of such allotments – the manner in which this scheme has been announced and taken forward raises serious concerns.
Indeed, at the outset, it must be clarified that no one disputes a political party’s right to make promises to the electorate even if certain claims by Gujarat Congress on availability of land and the requisite funds are questionable. India has, in the past, seen promises of free cycles, computers, toothpastes and even mangalsutras.
Additionally, no one disputes (or should dispute) the fact that this scheme has a condition attached to it in that it will be a reality only if Gujarat Congress comes to power. That, indeed, is the whole purpose of such election year promises.
The worrying aspect is in the way in which these promises have been offered. Let us assume that Gujarat Congress trumps the BJP in the upcoming Gujarat Assembly elections 2012 and runs the government for the next five years. The following questions arise:
1) Who is the authority handing out these forms and asking the women of Gujarat to enroll today? It is the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee which has no authority today over such decisions. It is the GHB that will ultimately make these allotments.
2) Are the funds coming from Congress party’s coffers? Obviously not. So, in short, a political party that has no authority under any law to authorise such government spending (other than pressurise the current Gujarat Government to do so) is handing out forms to women and registering them, thus creating expectations.
3) Why is the Gujarat Congress quoting huge numbers of applications received (28 lakhs on last count) creating some sort of frenzy across urban (and now rural) areas? Why is the Gujarat Congress asking women of Gujarat to hurry up, stand in queues and enroll at this stage instead of inviting them beginning January 2013 when it will assume power and, thereby, control of GHB? After all, the legal validity of such registration as of today is no greater than the legal validity of an oral election promise.
4) Is it Gujarat Congress fueling an unsaid expectation that when it forms the government, it will give priority to those who filled out forms issued under the Gujarat Congress letterhead over those who will apply under a legitimate GHB scheme? Is Gujarat Congress trying to tell women to take advantage of these “early-bird specials” and jump over those who apply to the GHB next year? Even though Congress politicians have not said so, that seems to be the obvious inference. And, if it isn’t so, and these applicants have to apply to the GHB again, what is the point of these applications right now? It must be pointed out here that housing allotments by GHB in the past have mostly been by way of drawing of lots.
5) Lastly, is it legally or constitutionally possible to give priority to these ‘early birds’? Even if one is not a lawyer, the obvious answer is, no. How can applications submitted to a political party and thus having no legal validity of any sort be given priority next year over applications made to a legitimate body authorized to accept them?
What does this tamasha of making people throng to booths to sign up for some future benefits contingent upon uncertain events do? It dupes and fools the Gujarati woman by creating in her mind expectations of a non-existent scheme through seemingly legitimate forms, a detailed registration process and an implicit promise of priority in allotment – all of which has no legal validity today or even when Gujarat Congress comes to power and actually implements the scheme.
Frankly, this is not merely one of those political gimmicks of promising freebies, either through speeches or in manifestos, normally accepted in our election setup.
What’s worse, not only has the Gujarat Congress has made the Gujarati woman leave her daily chores or nurturing her children to take advantage of early registration, it has, in process, created traffic problems and scuttles at some of these booths.
The BJP may have been given a run for its money –the Modi government has some answering to do on why GHB was rendered virtually non-functional until 2011 – but the Gujarati woman has been taken for a ride through a meaningless tamasha.