By Shalini Nair & Krishn Kaushik
The Use of socio-economic indicators to target the poorest households for its social welfare schemes in rural India appears to have paid dividends for the BJP-led NDA in this Lok Sabha elections — it has won 71, or over 60%, seats in constituencies that cover the 115 districts identified by NITI Aayog as “aspirational”.The most number of these districts fall in Bihar (13) and Jharkhand (19), and cover 12 constituencies each. In Bihar, the BJP and allies, JDU and LJSP, won in all the seats within these districts — even dislodging the RJD in Araria by over 2 lakh votes. In Jharkhand, the BJP and allies are leading in 10 of those 12 seats.
In West Bengal, which has five aspirational districts — Murshidabad, Maldah, Birbhum, Nadia and Dakshin Dinjapur — the BJP has managed to wrest three from the ruling TMC.The rural household data from the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) has been the basis for the NDA’s government’s outreach to the most backward areas.
For instance, for the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Grameen, the data was used to zero in specifically on beneficiaries who live in kutcha houses or are homeless — unlike the UPA’s Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), which relied on poverty estimates from states. As a result, in the last five years, 15 million houses were completed, including 7 million approved under the IAY.
Similarly, the deprivation indicators from SECC formed the basis of allocating higher budgets to states under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.For Swachh Bharat-Grameen, under which the government has claimed nearly cent percent coverage in rural India with almost 10 crore toilets, a flat incentive of Rs 12,000 was given to SC, ST and Below Poverty Line (BPL) households as well as those headed by women or by persons with disabilities or marginal farmers.
Being the pet scheme of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Centre put sanitation high on the agenda of every state government until the sarpanch level. “While the UPA’s Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan was mainly about toilet construction, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was about behavioural change and establishing collective accountability of the entire village leading to even Above Poverty Line households taking an initiate to build toilets on their own,” said officials.
A case in point is that of UP, which recorded a sudden uptake of the central scheme after change of power from SP to BJP in March 2017 — the idea of toilets as “izzat ghar” was rigorously promoted and implemented on ground. Even West Bengal, which is known for rejecting much of central schemes, managed near 100 per cent rural coverage under Swachh Bharat, which it renamed as Nirmal Bangla. In Jharkhand, the construction of toilets led to the creation of employment for women masons.
For providing clean cooking fuel under the Ujjwala scheme, the BPL list under SECC 2011 was the main criteria. The scheme was later opened to SC and ST households, beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and Antyodaya Anna Yojana, forest dwellers, “most backward classes”, tea garden tea garden tribes, and people residing in islands or river islands.
In rural parts across the country women have used firewood, coal or cow dung as cooking fuel. Under Ujjwala, the identified beneficiaries, one woman per household, was provided an LPG connection free of cost, as the high initial cost was one of the deterrents. Within 11 months of Modi launching the scheme from Balia in eastern UP in May 2016, the government gave out 2 crore LPG connections. By March 2019, a total of 7.19 crore connections were distributed across 714 of the country’s 725 districts.
Sources in the Union Ministry for Petroleum and Natural Gas said that since its launch, “close to Rs 4,500 crore has been transferred to beneficiaries’ bank accounts in subsidy”. However, there have been complaints that the cost of LPGs are still too high, which has led to slower adoption and fewer refills by beneficiaries.
After clean cooking fuel, the government launched a scheme to focus on electrifying all the households in the country. Once again using the SECC 2011 data, the government identified un-electrified households who will get the connection for free, while others could get it for Rs 500, payable in installments later.
Launched by Modi in September 2017, nearly 2.63 crore households have been electrified across the country. As per the Union Ministry of Power’s data only 0.07% of the nation’s households — 18,734 — remain without electricity.These schemes not only strengthened the BJP in states where it won in 2014, it also provided the government with tools to make inroads into states that where it had not managed to win many seats.
In West Bengal, where BJP had won just Asansol in 2014, the party gained 17 seats this time. Three seats — Ranaghat, Balurghat and Maldah Uttar — that fall in aspirational districts, and were earlier held by the TMC, have gone to the BJP. Under the Saubhagya scheme, over 10 lakh households in Nadia (Ranaghat), 3.16 lakh households in Dakshin Dinjapur (Balurghat) and 7.6 lakh houses in Maldah (Maldah Uttar) were electrified.
The appeal of the schemes also created goodwill among classes that were not intended beneficiaries. The PM Awas Yojana and Ujjwala scheme, in particular, found widespread resonance across castes, especially in the northern, Hindi-belt states. Even in Rajasthan, where lack of water supply meant that many of these toilets constructed under Swachh Bharat remain unused, the scheme’s popularity translated into votes for the BJP.