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July 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.    Wishing You All a Happy New Year.       July 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:June' 2019


Those who voted for
Modi and Modi only

Dinesh Sharma

Magdalli is a 50-year-old household help in Delhi. Uprooted from her native Jharkhand, she has been working there for more than two decades. Visiting her remote village amid forests isn’t easy because costly and travel first by rail, then by bus and finally by a long trek is arduous, to say the least.

One morning she intrigued her mistress when she asked her for a couple of days of emergency leave to visit her native place. When asked why, she gave an amazing reply: she wanted to cast her vote for Narendra Modi for the Lok Sabha.

Cut to a village in north Bihar. Ramrati, a villager, walks into an election booth there and asks the polling officer to help her vote for Modi. She didn’t, however, know about the candidate, his party or its symbol. She just wanted to vote for Modi.

The thing in common between the two women was that they had benefited from the many welfare schemes of the Narendra Modi government. No wonder, the name Modi became synonymous with the delivery of services that has transformed the lives of millions.

After the eye-popping electoral numbers flashed on TV screens, not a few psephologists and armchair analysts were stupefied by the 300-plus seats the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won on its own. Their problem was that they had failed to see the undertow of the churning waters, unlike the ground-level pollsters who had talked to voters. Those who went terribly wrong had, in all probability, missed what had happened over the past five years in the rural areas.

Many media mavens and poll experts chose to go public with their explanations of the astounding outcome of the elections. Whatever factors were cited for the victory such as national security, a well-oiled poll machine, the charisma of Narendra Modi ,or the dedicated cadre of the BJP, at the end of day it was the changes brought about in the lives of the ordinary people that had done the trick.

Governments before Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 also had unveiled schemes to ameliorate the lot of the people. Some of these had attained some success; some others were no more than palliatives with no visible and lasting impact. After Modi came to power, he revamped some old schemes and launched new ones. Thanks to vigorous monitoring with the help of new technologies, he could ensure unprecedented success for the schemes.

One of the biggest game changers in the Lok Sabha elections was Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna (PMUY). Under it, more than seven crore LPG connections had been given to households below the poverty line (BPL) which were exempt from making any deposits. As many as 69,000 gas connections were given per day within a span of 34 months. To support the massive scheme, the government had a massive network of 6,800 new distributorships backed up by common service centres in far-flung rural areas. The masterstroke of the government was to sanction the connections in the name of women who as owners felt immensely empowered.

Unlike families in the metropolises, those in villages depend on wood and cow dung as fuel for their cooking. The fallout is widespread lung diseases among rural womenfolk. According to health experts, cooking in traditional kitchens on open fire leads to inhalation of smoke equivalent to smoking hundreds of cigarettes. WHO data show that half a million people die in India due to diseases caused by smoke from open fire stoves. Now the universal use of LPG has reduced the risks of diseases such as heart conditions, strokes, obstructive pulmonary ailments and lung cancer.

Under the new scheme, the government extended financial support of Rs. 1600 per LPG connection to BPL families. Those who could not afford to buy a stove and refill from an oil marketing company were given the option of an interest-free loan. And for good measure the government paid the administrative cost of Rs. 1600 for each connection that included a cylinder, a pressure regulator, a booklet and a safety hose.

Equally important for the rural poor was Saubhgya or Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana. Modi had launched the scheme on 25 Sept, 2017, to provide power connections to the poor in both rural and urban areas. It covered even those above the poverty line (APL). To cut red tape, the power distribution companies were told to organize camps and complete formalities on the spot. The scheme was a roaring success, bringing light to remote areas.

Jan Dhan bank accounts were another big plan that influenced common voters. All governments in the past had introduced one or another welfare scheme. But the poor could not benefit fully in the absence of bank accounts. The much-touted Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), launched in 2005, drew complaints from beneficiaries that they were either deprived of the benefits or were not paid dues in full.

The Modi Government’s decision on universal bank accounts had a cascading effect on the poor. The banks opened tens of millions of accounts under the Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojna (PMJDY), under which account holders weren’t required to have a minimum balance. This was the biggest financial inclusion of its kind. The terms of opening such accounts were simplified. Any individual reaching the age of 18 could approach a bank for the purpose. An Aadhaar card or its number was sufficient proof for opening an account.

What was apparently a programme for the poor became a windfall for the banks as well. According to figures available, the bank deposits swelled with Jan Dhan accounts registering a 24- per- cent rise. The main beneficiaries were public sector banks and regional rural banks which collectively pulled in about 100,000 crores in deposits.

For the poor a roof overhead is more a means of survival than an asset. The Modi government in its first innings announced a scheme to construct 20 million houses for the poor in both rural and urban areas. The scheme had two components—Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna Urban (PMAY-U) and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna Gramin (PMAY-G).

The scheme aims, among other things, to redevelop urban slums with financial participation by the private sector and provide credit- linked subsidies and affordable housing. It was structured in such a way that the maximum number of people could benefit from it.

But perhaps nothing else connected with the name Modi has had a greater role in the lives of ordinary people than his Swachh Bharat mission aimed at ending open-air defecation in the country. India had long been tainted by the ugly sight of squatters in public, that Nobel laureate Naipaul lampooned in his book, ‘An Area of Darkness’.

But national policy makers before Modi h a d n ’ t addressed the challenge with any seriousness. But by contrast, he turned the issue into his mission after becoming prime minister in 2014. His government allocated massive funds to build toilets in rural private homes. The government roped in the private sector and common people to make the mission successful.

The impact of Swachh Bharat has been dramatic. A 2012 survey under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had revealed that only 32 per cent of households in the country had toilets, conflicting with its own claim one year earlier that 72 per cent had toilets. In sharp contrast, the Modi government achieved 96 per cent of the total target.
Within one year of the project, 4.5 million toilets were built. The figure reached nearly 10 million by December 2018, with 5,39,000 villages, 580 districts, and 27 States and Union Territories being declared free from open-air defecation (ODF). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as high as 90 per cent of the diseases in countries like India could be attributed to water pollution from human faeces.

The biggest beneficiaries of the Modi government’s schemes have been women like Magdalli and Ramrati. One doesn’t need rocket science why they voted for Modi and for Modi only.