HYDERABAD: If a voter of Telangana were to paraphrase Lewis Carroll and sing, her heart would say:
The sun was shining on the sea
Shining with all his might
and this wasodd, because it was
The middle of the night.
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes – and ships – and sealing wax –
Of cabbages and kings;
And why the sea is boiling hot –
and whether promises have wings.”
It is raining welfare promises and it will be the reign of welfare in the next term of governance, whether the Congress-led Front or the pink party gets a pink slip, or a mandate, from the voters of Telangana, but in an item-on-item comparison, the Congress is comfortably ahead of the TRS as far as manifestoes go.
The Congress reading of TRS victory in 2014 is one of welfare wooing the voters successfully, rather than a sentimental vote for their success in leading an agitation successfully culminating in the creation of a separate State; hence its entire campaign has been focussed on exposing the promises made by Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao leading to the previous elections, and outdoing the TRS in welfare promises.
On a back foot on the ground of promises that would have changed live of most people, if they had been delivered, the incumbent TRS has tried its best to match the belligerent opposition, but with a slightly lower factor of credibility on several grounds, like giving land and building homes, and diffidence on others, like universal healthcare and education, but its cautious once-bitten appro-ach leaves it trailing.
Agriculture Ahoy! Jai Kisan
Before elections from the vitriolic campaign to the Utopian manifestoes, villages score over the cities in attention and the passion of pledges. All political parties are forced to believe and live the Gandhian observation — the soul of India resides in its villages. The farmer is the king, till the votes are cast and sealed.
The Congress, having made mincemeat of the loan waiver of the TRS in the last term, which was spread over years and made in installments, leaving a huge distaste amongst the agrarians, made Rs 2 lakh loan waiver its biggest thrust. In one go, it stresses. The reason the one-go is important is because of the interest component falls on the farmer if the principal is now paid in full and new loans are not available to farmers who are listed as defaulting or due.
The Congress has promised that their government would underwrite and pay the interest burden on long-term loans availed by farmers from cooperative sector, setting up of a market intervention fund of Rs 5,000 crore will be set up, and an enhancement of crop support for farmers from Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000 per acre under the ‘Rythulu, Kaulu Rythulu and Rythu Coolie Pathakam’. It lists a minimum guaranteed prices for 17 major crops, and the re-establishment of a separate agriculture budget.
In contrast, the TRS believes it has nailed an integrated approach to revitalising agriculture and rural economy with its current schemes comprising thrust on major, medium and micro irrigation, 24/7 free power to agriculture, Rythu Bandhu and Rythu Bima schemes.
These include the Rs 8,000 per acre farmer investment support for two seasons, (at rate of Rs 4000 per acre per season), purification of land records, door delivery of pattaadar passbooks, Rythu Bhima of Rs 5 lakh per farmer, establishing Rythu Vedikas, division of state into crop colonies or clusters, and consolidation of work on irrigation projects to bring up to one crore hectare ayacut going beyond rain-fed irrigation, including Palamuru-Rangareddy, Kalesh-waram, Seetarama, Dindi, etc., tanks rejuvenation under Mission Kakatiya and the mega Mission Bhagiratha schemes.
The TRS promises a loan waiver of Rs 1 lakh (no word on how many installments in the manifesto), enhancement of Rythu Bandhu investment support of Rs 8,000 per acre for agriculture to Rs 10,000, and an honorarium to members of the Rythu Samanvaya Samitis. The TRS promises to establish food processing units across the state.
Add the Congress promises of converting the agriculture department into a department for farmers’ welfare (ah, change of names), payment of ex-gratia to families of farmers who have committed suicide after the formation of Telangana and removal of service charges imposed on agriculture pump-sets by TRS, besides complete payment of insurance premium and continuation of Rythu Bandhu, and its expansion to include tenant farmers and farm labour.
Pensions a Basic Income?
The TRS has enhance senior citizen pension from Rs 200 during the Congress rule to Rs 1,000 per couple. This has led to the biggest war amongst the two parties, in a quasi-auction mode pitch for the voters’ collective love.
The TRS claims the enhancement of Aasara pensions to Rs 1,000, and promises to make them Rs 2016. Pensions for differently-abled persons would be enhanced from Rs 1,500 to Rs 3,016.
The Congress sees red over these promises, saying it has been the focal thrust point of their agitation against the government for over a year. It was they who first promised to enhance the pensions to `2,000 per senior citizen, and give it to both the members of the old couple. TRS added a mere `16 to the Congress promise, some say, because of neurological rationalisations and superstitions.
The Congress, which released its manifesto a couple of weeks ago, also reduced the age of qualification from 65 to 58. TRS promised, in its manifesto released yesterday, to bring it down to 57. If promises have wings, we would be half a welfare state we would ideally dream of after the elections.
Jobs and unemployment allowance
The TRS had promised one job to every household, though it was not a promise listed in its last manifesto. It was something Mr Rao had said in the lead up to the 2014 elections and it was a promise, like the 2BHK, that stuck.
It is the Congress narrative, and largely a popular perception, that the TRS government in Telangana, like its Central counterpart in Delhi under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, or the Andhra Pradesh government under Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, has failed in creating jobs as per aspirations and expectations.
Building on large-scale anger amongst youth, especially the educated unemployed, the Congress promises creation of one lakh jobs once within a year. It promises to notify and fill government jobs, including 20,000 teaching posts. It promises creating an additional opportunities for one lakh beneficiaries through self-employment schemes, with a proviso for a mega DSC, besides a promise of 50 lakh direct and indirect employment opportunities created by re-establishing the ITR. It promises Rs 3,000 unemployment allowance for each of the over 10 lakh unemployed youth.
It is here that the Congress scores massively over the TRS, which is silent on specifics of job creation or filling of government vacancies. Again, it has upped the Congress with a promise of an unemployment allowance of `3,016. The unsaid slogan – Jai Numerology.
2 BHK houses
The TRS manifesto is eloquent is its choice of words. “While continuing construction of double bedroom houses as per existing norms, (those a poor persons, sic., error in original) who own a plot and are desirous of constructing a house on their own will be provided financial assistance, ranging from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 6 lakh.
In not so subtly not reporting how many houses it has built in the last term and handed over to beneficiaries, and incorporating the Congress promise of moving from constructing houses to paying a fixed amount to beneficiaries, the TRS acknowledges its own failure.
Focus on Education
Another major promise of the TRS which had permeated into popular consciousness was on the education front, with the free KG-to-PG promise. While the Congress harped on the failure of the government to do anything substantial, the TRS manifesto, which speaks of successes on many fronts, is succinct on education. It lists establishing 663 new residential schools for SC, ST, BC and minority communities with an allocated annual spend of `1.25 lakh per student (total number of students not listed). It also listed providing overseas scholarship of `20 lakh per student for poor students pursuing education abroad (number of students missing).
In contrast, the Congress’ elaborate a ‘menu card must list the recipe too method’, list everything to the last detail (at times, irritatingly). Its biggest takeaway is provisioning over 20 per cent of the state’s Budget for education; which if it comes to power, and achieves, could be revolutionary in Indian political history.
Pushing on other perceived failures of the government, the Congress harps on revitalising a mission for cent percent literacy, restoration of the fee reimbursement scheme for all eligible students.
The Congress, trying to benefit from its positive perception given its past track record of Aarogyasri and the 108 and 104 schemes, portrays a utopian yet within reach changeover. Matching the Centre’s health for all model, the Congress promises free treatment of up to `5 lakh for all per year. It additionally promises 20-30 bedded hospitals in every mandal, a NIMS-level super speciality hospital and medical college in every district.
The TRS, its golden age of welfare rhetoric aside, has a sketchy mention of Kanti Velugu and its extension through large-scale health camps for all other diagnostic tests. It gives a brief mention of what it has achieved – developing public health organisation and improvements of facilities in government hospitals with special focus on dialysis diagnostics and cancer screening centres and creation of basti dawakhanas.
Groups under Keen focus
Each manifesto does a huge listing of things to be done for specific sections – Dalits, tribals, minorities and women, physically handicapped, government employees, besides other castes and groups. The Congress manifesto, a huge screed, lists welfare of Telangana martyrs and families, journalists, lawyers, among others. The Congress has focused a lot on women associations in particular, while the TRS does not have any major specific promises.
Neither party, nor manifesto, gives too much thought to how the state’s economy would grow, how its revenues would rise to foot the welfare bill. It is assumed, the cow would get fatter and give more milk. The TRS manifesto begins by saluting the struggle for a separate state led by itself, and salutes the leadership and sacrifice of Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao for it. The Congress manifesto opens with tributes to martyrs who laid down their lives to achieve statehood, and salutes the ‘father of Telangana’, Prof. A. Jayashankar.
No party mentions Hyderabad or its development with too much care. The urban voters don’t matter, except for some motivational talks on ‘why they should vote’ and live up to their responsibility. The TRS lists this point as its last highlight, point number 24, almost in passing – “efforts to transform Hyderabad as a global city will be accelerated”. The Congress too has a post script on India’s fourth largest Metro Rail system.
After perusing through both manifestoes in great detail, one figured out the truth. No one is expected to read it, remember it, and much less so base their decision to vote on a manifesto. Head back to the vitriolic TV debates and abusive social media. It is their finger at you and your finger at them finally....