Assembly polls | Gehlot's bet on OPS tilts opinion in poll-bound Rajasthan

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot addresses public meeting ahead of Rajasthan Assembly elections at Kishangarh near Ajmer, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. Photo: PTI

Jaipur: The populist decision to restore the old pension scheme (OPS) seems to have given Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot an edge over his rivals in the poll-bound state.

Rajasthan was the first state in the country to restore the scheme for all its employees. The decision that cheered nearly 5.6 lakh employees appointed after January 1, 2004, was emulated by Congress governments in other states. Though it drew criticism from economists, people's sentiments are firmly with the incumbent dispensation.

"I have been a BJP supporter, but I will vote for Congress for the first time," said a state government employee. OPS tilted the scale for her.
Though state government employees are a tiny fraction of the total population, it's a significant vote bank considering that in the last assembly elections, the difference between BJP and Congress was a mere half a per cent of the total vote cast. Also, government employees hold influence on other votes, especially in rural areas where teachers, tehsildar, patwaris, doctors, nurses, etc all have a major impact on the public perception.

Also, a government job remains a cherished dream as it guarantees a stable income and OPS further ensures a permanent income even after retirement.

Even as a recent study by RBI suggests that the fiscal cost of reverting to OPS will be enormous and the actual pension burden will increase by around 4.5 times than that of the NPS, the political returns of OPS clearly outweigh the concerns of fiscal burden. The economic experts, who oppose a reversion to OPS, also include the chief of the UPA government's planning commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

A close aide of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Ahluwalia has held OPS as a 'recipe for financial bankruptcy'. However, the reintroduction seems to be working for CM Gehlot.

State BJP too seem to be baffled by the people's support for the scheme. The party is in no position to reciprocate as the central government and its ministers vehemently oppose the OPS. The state leaders are a little too cautious to speak on the issue, obviously, they do not wish to further strain their relationship with state government employees.

Meanwhile, CM Gehlot has on several occasions demanded OPS for central government employees and armed forces personnel which form a considerable vote base in the state.

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