Congress' election promises in Gujarat may be attractive, but voters should take them with a pinch of salt

Although Congress is yet to release its election manifesto in Gujarat, it has already promised a farm loan waiver, unemployment dole and smartphones to the youth. Rahul Gandhi, speaking at a rally in Amreli on 30 November, stated that Congress will frame a policy for farm loan waiver within 10 days of forming the government.

File image of Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. Reuters

File image of Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. Reuters

Congress presented more definitive plans for the unemployment dole and free smartphones. Gujarat Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki as early as September, stated that Congress will give monthly unemployment allowance of Rs 3,000 to those who have completed Class 12, Rs 3,500 to graduates and Rs 4,000 to post-graduates until they find employment. Congress even went as far as setting up an online registration portal for unemployed youth on its website. Congress also promised smartphones to such youth to help them keep abreast of technological developments.

While these promises seem extremely attractive in election season, their feasibility needs to be examined in the context of state finances and past performance of Congress in delivering such promises. Last year, the Congress ran a similar campaign in Punjab: Promising loan waivers to farmers, unemployment dole and smartphones to the youth.

On the issue of loan waiver, the Congress manifesto promised “waiver of agricultural debt”. As of 31 March,  28.57 lakh farmers from Punjab had outstanding agricultural debt to the tune of Rs 83,769.91 crores according to figures given by Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare in Rajya Sabha on 21 July. A loan waiver of this magnitude was simply not possible considering Punjab’s estimated receipts for 2017-18 were 1.05 lakh crore.

Congress, after coming to power, quickly backtracked on this promise and added many riders. The Punjab government limited the waiver to short-term production loans given in connection with the raising of crops which was to be repaid within 6 to 12 months, including working capital loan, extended to marginal and small farmers. Further, the benefit was limited to only small (landholding between 2.5 acres to 5 acres) and marginal farmers (landholding less than 2.5 acres) and that too for amounts of up to Rs 2 lakh irrespective of the loan size.

As per the government’s estimate about 10.25 lakh farmers would benefit from this waiver; leaving out almost two-third of farmers with outstanding agricultural debt. The scheme is yet to be notified and the Congress government has allocated only Rs 1,500 crore for 2017-18 leading to serious doubts about the success of the scheme. Thus, Congress’ much anticipated agricultural debt waiver scheme turned out to be a damp squib. To make things worse, almost 300 farmers in Punjab have committed suicide recently and their names were included in the obituary reference of the Winter Session of the Punjab Assembly.

Congress has not fared any better with the promised unemployment dole. The Congress manifesto promised employment to all youth in the state under Ghar Ghar Rozgar Yojana and until such employment was given, Congress promised an unemployment allowance of Rs 2,500. This promise was also made in no uncertain terms on Congress campaign website. Nearly 25 lakh people who signed up for this scheme ahead of the elections and received their Unemployment Allowance cards were in for a rude shock when the Congress government after coming to power in Punjab did a volte-face.

Thus, the unemployment cards issued by Congress were nothing more than an election gimmick and the whole scheme could have been a ruse to collect personal information from the youth for use in the campaign. It must be noted that the website expressly stated that if people did not register on the website, they would not be eligible to benefit from the scheme to be launched once Congress came to power. Congress employed a similar trick with its promise of free 4G enabled smartphones with a year of free calling and data by floating a portal. Around 30 lakh people registered for this scheme.

For even the most basic smart phones and the cheapest voice and data plan, the cost per phone will come out to around Rs 150 crore (Rs 5,000 per phone). Congress has only allocated Rs 10 crore for this scheme in 2017-18, which underscores how serious Congress is about fulfilling its promises. Undeterred by the reality check it received in Punjab, Congress promised loan waiver to farmers and unemployment allowance and smart phones to the youth of Gujarat. The outstanding agricultural debt in Gujarat—as on 31 March—was around 70,000 crore and by Congress’ own estimate, there are 30 lakh unemployed youth in the state.

The cost of the smartphone scheme is going to be around Rs 150 crore, and the bill for the unemployment allowance is likely to be in the range of 900 crore per month. Given the magnitude of the costs involved, it is unlikely that Congress will be able to fulfill these promises.

The voters in Gujarat would do well to take these promises with a pinch of salt, especially given Congress’ track record in Punjab.

Aakanksha Thakur is a research consultant who has extensively worked in the areas of development and policy.

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Read complete coverage of Gujarat Elections 2017 here

Updated Date: Dec 04, 2017 12:09 PM

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