Ahmedabad: 'Special category' quota for weaker communities with similar rights enjoyed by OBCs, farm loan waiver, setting up of 'Indira canteens' to provide nutritious food for labourers at Rs 10 are some of the highlights of Congress' manifesto for Gujarat polls.
Interestingly, according to the Congress' electoral agreement with Hardik Patel-led Patidar Anamant Andolan Samiti (PAAS), the party has promised to award reservation to Patels by creating a special category and granting them all benefits of the OBC quota.
The Congress, desperate to make a comeback in Gujarat, which has been ruled by the BJP for over 20 years, has tried to reach out to various sections of society in its blueprint unveiled at a press conference here by state Congress election in-charge Ashok Gehlot and Congress unit president Bharatsinh Solanki.
The party has promised filling of vacant government positions and cancellation of outsourcing of jobs as well as contract and fixed salary systems.
The Congress also promised setting up Economically Backward Classes Commission (EBCS) for educational and economic development of "deprived people among the upper castes".
For farmers, it promised 16-hour power supply and cancellation of amended Land Acquisition Act.
The manifesto also commits to awarding ownership of LIG (Low Income Group) houses to women. It also promised an unemployment allowance for educated youth, slashing prices of both petrol and diesel by Rs 10 per litre.
"Equal opportunity and equal empowerment of all citizens is the fundamental policy of Congress party," the manifesto said.
"Without affecting/reducing/making any change in the present 49 per cent reservation of the backward communities, Congress party will introduce a bill in the Assembly at the earliest under Article 46 of the Constitution and keeping in view the provisions of the Article 31 (C)," it said.
"Under the bill, weaker communities who have not received any benefits of reservation will be given equal opportunity for education and economic development and conferred all rights given to OBCs under this specific category," it said.
The Congress will consult various stake-holders and will appoint a commission to identify the communities to be included in the "special category," as per the manifesto.
The Congress said it will tackle inflation by reducing petrol and diesel prices by up to Rs 10 per litre through reduction in state taxes.
The party will earmark development packages for areas dominated by OBCs and also establish 'Vishwakarma Foundation' for providing 100 per cent finance for self-employment of artisans and OBC youths.
Congress also assured unemployment allowance up to Rs 4,000 per month and 100 per cent financing for self-employed entrepreneurs from all communities besides 200 square metre plots with no down payment.
"Youths who want to set up industry will be given 250-500 sq metre plots at competitive rates and provided loans up to Rs 5 lakh at 5 per cent interest," it said.
The party will also set up 'Swami Vivekanand Education Foundation' to provide freeship and scholarship for students from the poor and middle class families for their education from pre-primary level to PhD.
The Congress also promised to convert self-financed courses in government and aided institutions into grant-in-aid courses, thus reducing the fee burden by 80 per cent, according to the manifesto.
For girl students, 100 per cent free education will be provided from primary to higher education, whereas families availing the Centre's Ujjwala gas connection will also be provided kerosene.
The Congress will also introduce 'Sardar Patel Universal Healthcare Card' for healthcare at government hospitals and free medicines through 'Rajiv Gandhi Pharmacy' chains.
It also promised to slash property tax and electricity rates by 50 per cent. The manifesto said if the party forms its government, it will charge Rs 2 per unit for up to 200 units on household power consumption.
Reaching out to businessmen, the Congress said it would set up fast track courts for serious economic offences to deal with cases of defaults, cheque bounce, cheating, fraud, extortion, land grabbing etc.
The Congress said it will ensure "equal work equal pay" as well as the increase in minimum wages for labourers. "Indira canteens will be set up to provide affordable nutritious and delicious food for the labour class at Rs 10 per plate," the manifesto said.
Congress also promised setting up a minority commission to implement its 15-point agenda for the uplift of minorities and providing 'Babasaheb Ambedkar Samajik Suraksha Card' for unorganised workers.
It also assured financial assistance and pension to widows, senior citizens and the differently-abled.
The Congress will also adopt a Smart Village Policy to stop migration and make provision of ponds, playgrounds, sanitation and drinking water supply to villages.
The party also promised to construct 25 lakh houses in the next five years under various schemes like Indira Aawas Yojana, Rajiv Gandhi Aawas Yojana and Ambedkar Aawas Yojana. State Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki said the manifesto has been prepared with an approach to shift the focus away from GDP to Gross National Happiness Index (GNHI).
"Our approach is a shift away from GDP to GNHI, as all our policies will be targeted for improving happiness index of the public like we see in countries like Bhutan, Norway and Sweden," he said.