Caste census, OBC quota, health cover: Three gamechangers in Cong manifesto for MP polls
Under the banner 'Congress aayegi, khushhaali layegi,' these three promises may reshape the electoral landscape in MP
Continuing with its welfare politics, the Congress unveiled an extensive poll manifesto on Tuesday 17 October in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, encompassing a wide range of promises aimed at addressing critical issues concerning the state's population.
With "Congress aayegi, khushhaali layegi" (the Congress will bring happiness) as the central idea, while the Congress manifesto contains 59 promises, three key announcements have drawn considerable attention and could be game changers in the electoral landscape: 27 per cent quota for other backward classes (OBCs), a proposed caste survey, and a Rs 25 lakh health cover for all residents of Madhya Pradesh.
The caste survey & OBC quota
One of the most prominent aspects of the Congress manifesto is the commitment to conduct a comprehensive caste survey, a move that has been vociferously advocated by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
Addressing a rally in Madhya Pradesh on 10 October, the Congress MP had likened the caste-based survey to an "X-ray" that can reveal the issues faced by marginalised groups and determine the appropriate level of representation they should receive.
According to an estimate, while OBCs make up more than 50 per cent of the total population in Madhya Pradesh, Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) together constitute about 36 per cent.
Put together SCs, STs and OBCs form about 85 per cent of the population in MP, which has been governed by the BJP for the last 20 years.
OBCs in the state have long been demanding 27 per cent reservation in jobs and higher education. The proposed caste survey is expected to bolster their case — and the Congress' prospects — in the elections.
The promise to conduct a caste survey and 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in government jobs by the Congress has rattled the ruling BJP, say MP watchers.
Banking on women-centric welfare schemes such as Ladli Behna Yojana and Hindutva, the BJP hopes to retain power, but by pitching the caste survey and OBC quotas as election issues, the Congress seems to have stolen a march the on BJP, observers say.
Health cover for all
In addition to the caste survey, the Congress has announced a significant health initiative in its manifesto, promising health insurance cover of Rs 25 lakh for every resident.
This comprehensive coverage, which also includes an accidental cover of Rs 10 lakh, is said to be the largest and biggest health initiative by any party, and surpasses the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) scheme launched by PM Narendra Modi's BJP government at the Centre.
Given that Madhya Pradesh has long occupied the lower rungs of most human development indicators, experts believe the health insurance provision announced by Congress could pave the way for structural improvements in the state's healthcare system.
Padho Padhao scheme & other key promises
The Congress manifesto also includes several other promises that could resonate with voters. Notable among these is the pledge to provide financial assistance of Rs 1,500 per month to women, a loan waiver for farm loans up to Rs 2 lakh, and a financial aid scheme called Beti Vivah Yojana, which will offer Rs 1.01 lakh for daughters. Additionally, under the Meri Beti Ladli Yojana, benefits to the tune of Rs 2.51 lakh will be provided to the girl child.
Under the Padho Padhao scheme, the Congress had already announced a monthly stipend of Rs 500 to Rs 1,500 for school students. Addressing a public meeting on 12 October in tribal-dominated Mandla, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi had said students from classes 1 to 8 would receive Rs 500 per month, those in classes 8 and 9 Rs 1,000 and class 11-12 students Rs 1,500 per month.
The grand old party has also promised to provide LPG cylinders at the subsidised rate of Rs 500, make school education free, implement the Old Pension Scheme, and offer unemployment allowances for youth ranging from Rs 1,500 to Rs 3,000 per month for two years.
Besides welfare schemes, the party has announced the opening of an AI centre and the formation of an IPL team for the state, in an apparent attempt to woo young voters.