ALSO READIn Gujarat, the Congress will highlight pro-poor policies: Ashok Gehlot BJP calls Congress a sinking ship; not scared, say Gujarat Cong MLAs Hold Gujarat polls after Dec 14, when Hindu wedding season ends: BJP to EC Modi flays Congress, assures traders on GST in Gandhinagar: Key highlights Assembly polls: Congress faces political battles with BJP in 6 states
To counter the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s ‘Gujarat model of development’ plank, the Congress party in its campaign for the Assembly polls in the state will focus on the allegedly declining ‘happiness index’ during the BJP rule. The manifesto will promise navasarjan or rejuvenation of Gujarati society, state unit chief Bharatsinh Solanki said. The manifesto will question the famed ‘Gujarat model’ as a hoax, and attempt an alternative vision based on the ‘happiness index’, instead of indicators such as data related to gross state domestic product. “After Gujarat and Maharashtra were carved out of the Bombay state in 1960, the Congress government in Gujarat laid the foundation of happiness in the state. Our slogan this time is that the Congress will be the harbinger of navasarjan,” Solanki said. The manifesto will focus on farm distress, joblessness of youth and the impact on traders of the Centre’s economic policies or how the BJP government’s policies have brought despair to all sections of the Gujarati society. “The human development indices of the state bear this out,” Solanki said. Former Gujarat chief minister Suresh Mehta has also campaigned in the past few months to highlight the “hoax” of the Gujarat model. Mehta was finance minister and chief minister in BJP governments in the mid-1990s. He points to data on quality of health services, education, water supply and sanitation having plummeted. “There has been increased privatisation of education and health services in Gujarat,” Solanki said.
Mehta, who currently runs the Lokshahi Bachao Abhiyan or save democracy campaign said governments in Gujarat had not delivered on commitments made to the people on waters of the Narmada river reaching them. “Farmers have not benefitted. Much of the water is being given to industries and free of cost,” he said.Ashok Gehlot, Congress incharge for the state, says the party would promise farm loans on zero per cent interest. Its manifesto will also focus on job creation through small and medium enterprises and skill development for youth to meet the problem of joblessness. Win or lose, the central leadership hopes its campaign for the Gujarat polls will help it reclaim its perch in Indian politics as an umbrella party — a party that isn’t sectarian, and represents the interests of all sections. However, the state unit is keen that the party manifesto make explicit promises to the Patidar community, especially to provide reservations in government jobs to Patidars and other such communities under a separate EBC, or ‘extremely backward community’ category. Party's Gujarat unit is of the view that the Congress manifesto should promise its government would assure 20 per cent reservation to EBCs over and above what is currently provided under the Constitution. The central leadership has not only said this would be legally untenable but pointed to the mistakes the party committed in its Uttar Pradesh campaign by presenting itself as a party relying on votes of particular castes and religion. If the state unit wants to recreate the KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim) alliance that had helped Congress win in Gujarat in the past, the central leadership believes the party should effect such alliances on the ground but preferably have an inclusive overarching narrative to appeal to all sections of the society. The Congress is in contact with dissident Janata Dal (United) legislator Chhotubhai Vasava, Patidar leader Hardik Patel and Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani. Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav has also approached the Congress leadership for a possible alliance.