Jaipur: The newly formed Congress government in Rajasthan has decided to restore right to contest, improve benefits under social security schemes and review change in textbooks that were made during previous BJP government. In the first cabinet meeting held on Saturday, chief minister Ashok Gehlot reversed the key decisions taken by the previous Vasundhara Raje government in the state. While handing over the party’s manifesto to the chief secretary, the cabinet unanimously decided that it would be the policy document of the state government and a cabinet committee would be constituted to ensure its effective implementation.
The key takeaways of the meeting included reopening of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar Law University and Haridev Joshi University of Journalism and Mass Communication that were closed by the Raje government, elimination of the provision of minimum educational qualification in the Panchayati Raj elections, and removal of Deendayal Upadhyay logo from official documents.
To effectively execute its loan waiver announcement, the Gehlot government decided to constitute an inter-departmental committee to waive the short-term crop loan. The chief minister has been authorised to nominate members in the said committee that will set the eligibility criteria for the waiver in cooperative banks, nationalised banks, and regional rural and land development banks.
Putting an emphasis on the social security schemes, the government announced increment in the pension received by old-age, widow and disabled persons under its old-age pension scheme. The Congress, while in opposition, had called out the Raje-led BJP government for halting the pension of eligible beneficiaries.
“For the past five years, the Raje government didn’t increase the pension that was previously set by our government. Keeping in mind the present scenario, we have increased the pension from Rs 500 to Rs 750 for men and women above 55 years of age and from Rs 750 to Rs 1000 for the pensioners in the age bracket of 75 years and above,” Master Bhawarlal Meghwal, minister of social justice and empowerment in the Rajasthan government, told The Wire.
The state council also decided to constitute a committee for resolving the issues of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) workers, para-teachers, Urdu para-teachers, anganwadi workers, education workers, panchayat assistants and a few others working on a contractual basis in state. During Raje’s tenure earlier this year, several NRHM who showed black flags to PM Narendra Modi demanding permanent employment were arrested for ‘sloganeering’ and ‘obstructing police personnel in discharging their duties’.
The government also decided to abolish the criteria set by the previous BJP government for the educational qualification of candidates for panchayati raj and local body elections to ensure each person gets a right to contest elections.
The state government under the BJP had brought in an ordinance a few days ahead of panchayat polls in 2014 making it mandatory for candidates contesting zila parishad and panchayat samiti polls to be Class X pass and those contesting sarpanch elections to be class VIII pass. In the scheduled areas, the criteria was class V pass. It later led to an amendment to the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act, 1994.
Civil society members who have been consistently fighting to restore the right to contest have welcomed the step. “The law was discriminatory and elitist. It was maliciously brought in Rajasthan to break the Congress control over the panchayats. After its implementation, 65% of the elected representatives were under 35 and it completely ruled out the older people and tribals who had no adequate means for education. The law was basically brought in to woo the youth, the only base of the Bhartiya Janta Party in rural areas,” Kavita Srivastava, Rajasthan president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, told The Wire.
The Congress government has also ordered removal of a logo featuring an image of RSS ideologue Deendayal Upadhyay from the letterheads of the ministers for all official correspondence. The Raje government had made using the logo mandatory as part of Upadhyay’s birth centenary celebrations last year. “Who was Deendayal Upadhyay, president or prime minister? When the logo of top leaders couldn’t be used on official letters, how come his be allowed?” Meghwal added.
Other decisions of the cabinet include direct elections for the mayor, chairman and the president of local bodies, public hearing by the state ministers from 9-10 am to ensure transparency and accountability and completion of the ambitious project of Barmer refinery in a fast and timely manner. The government has also asked to prepare a quick action plan to prioritise effective implementation of MNREGA in the state.
Significantly, the minister for state (independent charge) for education, Govind Singh Dotasara has announced that his department will review changes in the textbook content made by the previous BJP government. “The textbooks were changed to promote RSS ideology. We have ordered to form a separate committee of educationists to review the distortion of history in the textbooks and other regressive content,” Dotasara told The Wire.
For other changes made in the education sector like colour of the uniforms and saffron bicycles distributed to the students, he said, “We have issued official notes to rectify changes made in the colour of the uniform and bicycles for students by the Raje government.”
Noticeably, under the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government, class X and XII textbooks of the Rajasthan Board of Secondary Education were revised to glorify the Modi government and propagate the Bhartiya Janta Party’s Hindutva ideology. History was rewritten to sideline Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi and focus on Savarkar. The role of the Congress in the freedom struggle was also shown in poor light, claiming “elite Congressmen wanted to prolong British rule in India”. Years ago, the state education department had eliminated the suffix ‘Great’ from Akbar’s name. The Rajasthan University had also added a book projecting Maharana Pratap as a winner of the Battle of Haldighati in the list of recommended readings for the history subject.