In a surprise shift, Maharashtra deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has said the state government is “not negative” about the Old Pension Scheme (OPS). Earlier he had expressed his opposition to the OPS in the Maharashtra assembly.
With the Maharashtra legislative council elections delivering an adverse result to the state government, will it rethink its position? Meanwhile, reports also indicate that Congress in Karnataka is seriously considering reintroduction of the OPS as a key poll promise for its 2023 election campaign.
Why OPS Gained Steam
Evidence does indicate that the Congress party promise of restoration of the OPS (if returned to office) did help the party in winning the assembly election in Himachal Pradesh (HP). But it would be an overstatement to say that it was the sole reason for Congress’s victory. There were other issues too: price rise, unemployment and the issue of increased GST on the packaging of the apples, which helped the Congress in mobilising voters in its favour.
Congress also received a little push from the infighting within BJP. Since then, there is a buzz around more governments and political parties making promises for restoration of the OPS in their state (even if they believe it is economically unviable) anticipating electoral gains. But it would be too simplistic to assume that the demand for OPS would be the central issue on which the state elections of 2023 and the Lok Sabha election of 2024 would be contested.
This cannot be the single biggest issue of mass voter mobilisation as only a tiny proportion of voters are beneficiaries of the pension scheme, whether old or new. Parties would be making a mistake if they decide to make this their sole electoral plank. At best this could be one of the issues within a bunch of issues.
What Post-Poll Surveys Showed
Findings of the post-poll survey in HP does indicate Congress did benefit from its promise of restoring OPS if returned to power. Among those who supported OPS, 56 per cent voted for the Congress while amongst those who opposed OPS only 14 per cent voted for the party.
Among those who opposed OPS, 74 per cent voted for the BJP while among supporters of OPS only 33 per cent voted for the BJP. Evidently there was a clear advantage to the Congress on this issue. But only OPS could not have won the election for Congress as not all voters or their family members would have expected gains from this policy if implemented.
READ: Old Vs New Pension Scheme | What’s The Difference And Which One Is Better? | MC Explains
Not Just OPS Swayed HP
State government employees, despite being in very large numbers in HP, do not constitute a majority of the voters. While this issue got support among various sections of voters, the support for this issue was far less among voters belonging to the business community (54%), and among a few other groups.
A large number of voters in HP voted against the BJP because they were opposed to the central government’s new policy of Agniveer, as also concerns about increasing unemployment and skyrocketing prices of essential commodities.
The issue of increased rates of GST on packaging of apples was also a big concern amongst the apple growing farmers. They voted for yet another promise of the Congress in its manifesto: Setting up a horticulture commission with apple growers as its members, and bringing down GST rates on packing of apples from the current 18 per cent to give relief to apple growers.
2024 Different Ball-Game
The point I am trying to make is that OPS alone did not bring victory for the Congress. Voters have different concerns and voting intentions of different sections of voters are shaped by different concerns. When election to nine state assemblies takes place in 2023, the issues and concerns would be different in different states. Even within the state, the concerns may be different for different sections of voters and in different regions, as was evident in HP and other states which went to polls in 2022.
Let’s not even think about whether the OPS could be a gamechanger in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections or not. The 2024 Lok Sabha elections are likely to be contested on large national issues, on Ram Mandir, on national security, on the personal popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to state a few of such issues. With large national issues likely to hog the limelight of BJP’s electoral campaign, the issue of OPS is unlikely to become a big issue in 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
If the Congress is hoping to better the turnout for it only with the promise of OPS in state elections of 2023 or during the Lok Sabha elections of 2024, it seems the party is being completely misguided. And on the other hand, if BJP believes that concerns over OPS could end up becoming a decider, that is also uncalled for. Let me say it straight: the Old Pension Scheme can’t become a game changer in 2024.
Sanjay Kumar is a Professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), and an Election Analyst. Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.