The newly elected Congress government's move in its first Cabinet meeting here to reverse some controversial decisions of the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime gives indication of the ruling party in Rajasthan readying for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The State Cabinet's prompt move has come in for praise from civil society groups.
The State Cabinet has taken a slew of decisions, ranging from the elimination of educational qualification for Panchayati Raj elections, the reopening of universities and removal of Deendayal Upadhyaya's logo from official documents to direct elections for Mayor's post and the appointment of a committee on eligibility for the waiver of farmers' loans.
Health Minister Raghu Sharma said after the Cabinet meeting here that the State government would review all the decisions taken by the previous government in the last six months. Minister of State for Education Govind Singh Dotasara has also announced a review of school textbooks and other reference materials that were revised by the BJP.
The State government has abolished the criteria of educational qualification of candidates for Panchayati Raj bodies, introduced by the BJP regime through an Ordinance in 2014, to ensure that each citizen gets the right to contest. The qualification of 'Class X pass' was set for the Zila Parishad and Panchayat Samiti polls, and 'Class VIII pass' for Sarpanch elections.
The People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has welcomed the move, saying it had done away with a “highly discriminatory” provision that had led to the exclusion of 73% of the population above 21 years of age in rural areas. “This was an elitist law, denying equal opportunities to citizens who did not have the means for securing education,” PUCL-Rajasthan president Kavita Srivastava said here on Monday.
Ms. Srivastava pointed out that a special leave petition challenging the amendment to the Panchayati Raj Act was still pending in the Supreme Court. “After the State government's decision, we will argue in the apex court that the right to contest elections ought to be recognised as a fundamental right,” she said.
The Congress government has also ordered the removal of the logo of Bharatiya Jan Sangh's co-founder Deendayal Upadhyaya from the official letterheads of Ministers and government functionaries. Social activist Sawai Singh, president of Rajasthan Samagra Seva Sangh, said there was no justification for eulogising an Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideologue and undermining the significance of the Sarnath pillar as the national emblem.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has handed over the Congress party's manifesto to the Chief Secretary with the direction that it should be treated as the State government's policy document. A Cabinet committee will also be constituted to ensure its effective implementation.
Among other decisions, the State Cabinet has revived the Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar Law University and Haridev Joshi University of Journalism and Mass Communication, which were closed by the Vasundhara Raje government.
On the social security front, the Cabinet announced an increase in the amount of pension paid to widows and elderly and disabled persons. The Congress had protested against the halting of pensions for eligible beneficiaries during the BJP's rule.