Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Thursday promised free education upto Class 12 and allowance for school children in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh. Speaking at a rally in the tribal-dominated Mandla district ahead of the November 17 Assembly elections, she also reiterated the promise of caste census, claiming the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and tribals are not getting jobs in commensurate with their share in the population.
"Recently, Bihar conducted a caste census and it was revealed that 84 per cent of the people belong to OBC, SC (Scheduled Castes) and ST (Scheduled Tribes) categories in the state. But their numbers in jobs are very low. To know their exact numbers and do justice to them, a caste census should be conducted in the country," the Congress leader said.
"The BJP government at the Centre does not want to talk about it....Injustice is being done to OBCs and tribals. They are not getting jobs according to their numbers. We want their count (in order) to deliver justice to them,” she added.
Besides announcing a slew of promises including implementation of the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) for government employees, she also said a Congress government would not only provide free education from Classes 1 to 12, but would also give allowance of Rs 500 per month to students from Classes 1 to 8, Rs 1,000 per month to those in Classes 9 and 10 and Rs 1,500 to those in Classes 11 and 12 under the 'Padho-Padhao' (learn and teach) scheme.
Tribals who collect tendu leaves for a living are being given shoes instead of bonus, the Congress leader claimed. "The shoes differ in size. They might be getting a commission.....Do shoes, slippers, umbrellas represent your respect? Is this your honour? You must get respect for your labour,” Gandhi told the audience. The BJP did nothing for the people in the last 18 years of its rule in MP but remembers them during elections and announces various schemes, she said.
As many as "250 scams" took place in the state where the BJP has been in power for "nearly 225 months", Gandhi said, listing corruption scandals related to Vyapam examinations, the mid-day meal scheme and scholarships. "It is unfortunate that employment opportunities have not been created in 18 years of BJP rule.
Instead, loot is underway. At the time of elections, emotions are being whipped up in the name of religion to divert attention from price rise and unemployment," she alleged. She somewhat resembles her grandmother and former prime minister Indira Gandhi, and hence she has to be more responsible to the people, especially the tribal population, Priyanka said.
Gandhi told the gathering her grandmother used to say tribal culture was unique as it protects, nurtures and worships nature and believes in simple living. Gandhi also said tribals have immense respect for the former PM and used to call her "Indira mata". "Indiraji provided you patta (lease) of the (forest) land to empower you. It is the Congress' tradition to make you the masters of your land," she said.
She said her party brought the Forest Dwellers Act, Panchayat Raj, mid-day meal, and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Guarantee Employment Act (MNREGA) for the welfare of tribals and to check their migration. "Now the BJP is snatching away these facilities as well as your rights one after the other. You got pattas (lease of forest land) when the Congress government came to power in MP from December 2018 to March 2020, which has been stopped," Gandhi alleged.
She also listed other poll promises of her party such as a gas cylinder for Rs 500, monthly allowance of Rs 1,500 to women, loan waiver, free 100 units of power per connection and 200 units at a half price, and free electricity to farmers for agricultural pumps of upto 5 HP capacity.