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 this Lok Sabha elections — it is ahead in 71, or over 60 per cent, 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, have won or are leading in all the seats within these districts — even dislodging the RJD in Araria by over 1.3 lakh votes. In Jharkhand, the BJP and allies are ahead in 10 of those 12 seats.
In West Bengal, which has five aspirational districts — Murshidabad, Malda, Birbhum, Nadia and Dakshin Dinajpur — the BJP is on course to wrest three seats from the ruling TMC.
The rural household data from the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) has been the basis for the NDA government’s outreach to the most backward areas.
For instance, for the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Grameen, the data was used to zero-in 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 for 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, persons with disabilities, and 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 the initiative 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 the change of power from SP to BJP in March 2017 — the idea of toilets as “izzat ghar” was rigorously promoted and implemented on the ground.
Even West Bengal, which is known for rejecting most 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 tribes, and people residing in islands or river islands.
Under Ujjwala, the identified beneficiaries — one woman per household — was provided an LPG connection free of cost, as the high initial cost was a deterrent.
Within 11 months of Modi launching the scheme from Ballia 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 LPG cylinders are still too high, which has led to slower adoption and fewer refills.
The government also launched a scheme to focus on electrifying all households. Once again using the SECC 2011 data, it identified un-electrified households who will get connections 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. As per the Union Ministry of Power’s data, only 0.07 per cent of the nation’s households — 18,734 — remain without electricity.
These schemes strengthened the BJP in states where it won in 2014, and helped the government make inroads into states where it had not managed to win many seats.
In West Bengal, where BJP had won just Asansol in 2014, the party appears to be gaining about 17 seats this time. Three seats — Ranaghat, Balurghat and Malda Uttar — that fall in aspirational districts, and were earlier held by the TMC, seem to be going the BJP way. Under the Saubhagya scheme, over 10 lakh households in Nadia (Ranaghat), 3.16 lakh households in Dakshin Dinajpur (Balurghat) and 7.6 lakh houses in Malda (Malda Uttar) were electrified.
In Odisha, the BJP is leading in two constituencies that include aspirational districts.
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 the toilets constructed under Swachh Bharat remain unused, the scheme’s popularity translated into votes for the BJP.