Chandigarh: Ahead of state elections on November 12 in Himachal Pradesh, the Opposition Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have persuaded government officials to corner the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), given their numbers in the electorate.
Both the opposition parties have made many promises, including reinstating the old pension scheme (OPS), ensuring transparent recruitment and settling government employee arrears. Workers claim that the current regime is unable to process the arrears because of the economic crisis brought to the state.
Leader of Opposition Mukesh Agnihotri also recently said that if voted to power, the Congress would order an inquiry into recruitments carried out during the BJP government’s rule. He claimed that there was a huge discrepancy in the positions filled over the past few years under the current regime.
On the other hand, the ruling BJP has gone to war, attacking the Opposition for what it calls “misleading workers” for political gain.
BJP state president Suresh Kashyap said in a recent media release that his party government has given priority to workers and resolved many of their pending issues.
So, what makes employees so important that everyone tries to woo them?
The answer lies in their strengths. More than 2.25 lakh individuals are working with Himachal Pradesh government, and there are about 1.90 lakh pensioners.
This is a huge number for a small state like Himachal, where the total size of electorate is not more than 55 lakh. Along with their dependents, one can say with some certainty that these workers account for 10%-15% of the total voters in the state.
In a state where elections are tightly contested (20 out of 68 seats were decided by less than 3,000 votes in 2017), the workers’ vote, therefore, becomes crucial for any political party to win a majority of seats.
That is the reason why their concern is now the political agenda of every political party. It is especially true in the Opposition camp, which has underlined that workers have got a raw deal under the BJP rule, although the latter dismisses them as political opportunism and vote bank politics.
One government employee issue in the spotlight ahead of the November 12 polls is the Congress and AAP’s promise to restore the old pension scheme, which covers nearly 50% of workers, who have been protesting for months, against the BJP government. on the issue.
Old and new pension schemes
Those recruited in Himachal Pradesh after 2004 are covered under the New Pension Scheme (NPS).
Pradeep Thakur, president of Himachal NPS Sangarsh Morcha, told Wire that the current NPS system is not as rewarding as the old pension scheme. Strictly speaking, the old pension scheme needs to be restored so that workers can live comfortably after retirement.
Congress was the first to throw its weight behind workers. It also cited the example of two more Congress-ruled states – Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – which restored OPS for their workers. The Congress party in Himachal has promised that it will restore and replicate the same within 10 days of government formation.
AAP also recently raised the issue after its party government approved OPS in Punjab. Soon after Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann made the announcement, AAP national organizer and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal keep tweeting that the New Pension Scheme (NPS) – which replaced the OPS in 2004 – was an injustice to government employees.
“We have restored it in Punjab. We will now do it in Himachal and Gujarat if we form the government there,” Kejriwal tweeted.
Hitting out at the opposition, Himachal chief minister Jai Ram Thakur recently questioned whether the Congress was in favor of OPS, why the scheme was stopped when it was in power and what prevented it from being revived in its last term.
Thakur said the OPS introduced in the Congress-ruled states of Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan was not being implemented in true spirit, and the chief ministers of both states had recently said that they needed support from the BJP government at the center to implement it.
He also said AAP’s result in Punjab was also a gamble to win the election. Both sides misled workers in a desperate bid to win the election, he claimed.
Meanwhile, OPS is not the only issue that invites a tug of war between the opposition and the BJP. The opposition is also thinking of the frustration of a few workers regarding the delay in payment of unpaid salary arrears as well as not paying the dearness allowance for 2022.
They also took full advantage of BJP’s failure to make free and fair recruitment. In May this year, the state had to cancel constable recruitment due to a paper leak, which came as a major hurdle for workers, desperate for government jobs.
Political analyst Ramesh Chauhan told Wire that, unlike other states, there is a huge demand for government jobs, especially, in lower Himachal like Kangra, Una, Hamirpur, Chamba and Bilaspur.
According to Chauhan, in those districts, agriculture is not viable for livelihood and industrialization does not happen locally, which makes government recruitment very important. However, he said, recruitment has not reached an encouraging level.
He went on to say that one cannot deny that there is resentment among workers on some issues. “But the question is whether the opposition will be able to take advantage of it. And, how BJP countered opposition criticism to retain its power,” he added.