Five years back, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) had promised free laptops and data cards to Punjab youth in its poll manifesto. The promise never saw the light of the day. The Congress manifesto had made no such promises as then Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had kept a leash on the party’s poll promises.
The Akalis returned to power and the Congress attributed SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal’s “populist” manifesto as one of the factors. But after two back-to-back poll drubbings, Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh, who has announced this to be his last election, is pulling out all stops.
On Sunday, Amarinder did a Mukesh Ambani, country’s richest man and head of Reliance Industries, by announcing 50 lakh 4G-enabled smart phones to state’s youth with one-year of free data and calling. The sentiment behind the “Captain Smart Connect” scheme is same as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Digital India’ push” to empower the youth and connect them digitally with the world.
But for that to happen, the youth will have to vote the Congress to power, Amarinder said at the launch of the scheme at the Beant Singh Memorial grounds in Chandigarh on Sunday. The former CM launched the website by pressing a button on a remote control after which a giant mobile phone appeared on the stage.
Though Amarinder said those who registered themselves for smart phones would get them within 100 days of the formation of the Congress government, a press statement of I-PAC, team of party strategist Prashant Kishor, who is the brain behind the move, said the smart phones will be delivered in five years of the government. The offer is open to Punjab residents in the age group of 18-35, who are Class 10 pass and with annual household income less than `6 lakh.
Amarinder has already announced loan waiver, jobs and smart phones leaving little for the manifesto committee headed by senior party leaders Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and Manpreet Badal.
According to I-PAC, as soon as Amarinder had invited the youth to join the scheme via his Twitter handle, “several thousand” of them had registered on the website — captainsmartconnect.com — and Amarinder’s Facebook profile, which went live with the event, witnessed 1,200 likes and 8,200 views in the first one hour of the launch.
Here are the tweets from Captain Amarinder Singh:
With #CaptainSmartConnect Scheme,I commit to digitally empower Punjab's Youth, so they can connect to world & explore new opportunities.— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) November 20, 2016
My govt will disburse 50lakh smartphones w/ free data & calling to Youth btwn 18-35 yrs & this roll out will begin within 100days of my govt— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) November 20, 2016
Keep your receipts safe with yourself. You will have to furnish it while claiming the smartphone #CaptainSmartConnect— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) November 20, 2016
My government will allocate 4-5 thousand crores from the budget for #CaptainSmartConnect Scheme.— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) November 20, 2016
“Over one-third of Punjab’s population comprised the youth in the 18-35 age group but large-scale unemployment, which is the highest in the country at 13.5, was pushing the youth to drugs and other problems,” Amarinder said while addressing the media after the launch. “The scheme will cost about Rs 300-Rs 400 crore a year after the initial investment in the first year and the allocation will be made in the state budget itself to fund the scheme as part of the government’s youth welfare programme,” said Amarinder.
Youth registering on the website will receive receipts with unique codes, which will entitle them to receive the 4G-enabled smart phone of set specifications – the “best in the market at the time of disbursement”. Youth can register till November 30, the party said.