Why the BJP embraced MGNREGA, the ‘living monument’ of the UPA’s failures

When the BJP came to power in 2014, PM Modi believed that MGNREGA was the wrong way to utilise funds for the poor

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi | Published:February 3, 2016 1:16 pm
A large number of MGNREGA projects failed because a culvert was not built to prevent the road from being washed away or a pond was dug at the top of a slope. (Illustration by C R  Sasikumar) MGNREGA is a job guarantee scheme that was introduced by the earlier UPA government (Illustration by C R Sasikumar)

Less than a year ago, the BJP described MGNREGA as the ‘living monument of failures’ of the UPA government which had launched it. Now, the party described it as the ‘nation’s pride.’ What made the BJP-led NDA government change its stance on the job guarantee scheme?

For one, it is the popularity of the scheme in rural areas and the party’s loss of ground in the rural belt. Secondly, it is the pressure from its grassroot-level leaders and MPs who vouched for the scheme.

When the BJP came to power with an overwhelming majority in May 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi — like many other senior BJP leaders — believed that the job guarantee scheme was the wrong way to utilise funds for the poor. (In fact, many Congress leaders also thought the same). They were firm believers of the trickle-down theory: you invest money in infrastructure and the successful sectors would stimulate the economy.

The BJP’s argument, even when it had to back MGNREGA as it would have been political suicide to oppose it in Parliament, was that it would not create any assets. The PM’s remark that the scheme was a “living monument” of the UPA’s failures drew inspiration from this belief.

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However, the crises in the farm sector – the government’s inability to provide Minimum Support Price (MSP) as promised and repeated crop failures due to droughts, hailstorms and floods – have led to farmers losing faith in the government. To add to its woes, the Opposition’s campaign that the government is anti-farmer in the wake of the NDA government’s move to bring in a new land acquisition law, further antagonised farmers and the rural population.

The job guarantee scheme had become a boon for many BJP-ruled states as a way to give relief to troubled farmers. In an interview with The Indian Express in April last year, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister and BJP leader Shivraj Singh Chouhan had termed the scheme as “one of the best programmes since Independence” as it has led to an “increase’’ in the income level of rural farmers.

Sarpanches from the BJP across the northern belt had conveyed to the party leadership that the MGNREGA scheme was popular among poor farmers. BJP MPs were uncomfortable with the PM’s criticism of the job guarantee scheme because they felt only pro-rich economists had opposed it. They wanted the government to improve the scheme, not scrap it. Besides, it is one of the few programmes of the central government that reached the farthest corners of the country. The only other programme equally familiar in rural areas is the Pradhan Mantri Grameen Sadak Yojana launched by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

So, the BJP was forced to appropriate the scheme and lay claim to it by improving it and making it more constructive. This is one way it has to salvage its image among the rural population.

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  1. N
    Navtej chahal
    Feb 3, 2016 at 4:58 pm
    I m sarpanch of the village in Punjab, poor people doing this job in village but big problem is that govt is not giving them labour from last two month
  2. P
    Feb 3, 2016 at 4:30 pm
    Total U turn by BJP on MNREGA
    1. R
      Feb 3, 2016 at 11:35 am
      Liz the CONgr a-s- licker is back in what he does best...lick CONgr and kick BJP
      1. A
        Feb 3, 2016 at 11:51 am
        It is a fact however that villagers in Uttarakhand abstain from hard work owing to easy income from MNEREGA.
      2. O
        Feb 3, 2016 at 11:52 am
        shamless bhakts are still out to despise the Rural poor. All advanced countries have very significant social security nets including unemployment benefits, medical and food security. Modi was so wrong and arrogant that he needed a kick in the by the voters, to come to terms with the fact, that this country belongs to 120 crore poor, and not just to the Ambanis and Adanis, and land looting crooked corporates.
        1. T
          Feb 3, 2016 at 2:32 pm
          Yes, in most areas of the country it is true. However, you also have to look at it from their angle. Most of the farm laborers do not own any land and they will never become rich however hard they work as they lack the skills and education needed to succeed. So why would they want to work hard and make others rich? I do know it is a vicious cycle with most of the children of the laborers also not getting a proper education or training in skills needed to succeed.
          1. A
            Feb 3, 2016 at 2:05 pm
            The poor are not in the radar of RSS/BJP.
            1. A
              Feb 3, 2016 at 10:02 am
              Sanghis waking up late as always, understanding India late as always. They have appropriated Patel ambedkar hiji Bose. Soon they will say Nehru is theirs too. Because they have no heroes of their own, they steal others' icons. Most dishonest party. Empty of brains and ideas. Each and every idea of the PM is all gas and noise.
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