Bengaluru: Borrowing a leaf from the late Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa’s style of populist politics, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah on Wednesday distributed free laptops to Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe students, with his own picture stuck on the devices as well as the bags that contained them.
Though the “free laptop scheme” was mentioned in last year’s budget, the Karnataka government initiated the distribution of around 1.5 lakh laptops this year, with the first phase focusing on SC/ST students who have just enrolled for undergraduate courses, according to the chief minister’s office. The scheme will cover students from poor families from all castes in later phases.
Coming on top of populist schemes around food security like Anna Bhagya (free rice) and Ksheera Bhagya (free milk for students), Siddaramaiah’s latest offering focusing on economically and socially backward groups is part of his larger political strategy to be seen as championing the cause of social justice as the state heads to polls later this year.
Though Siddaramaiah has so far continued the Congress tradition of naming government-sponsored schemes after the Gandhi family, the laptops bearing his photo are a pointer to his growing popularity. The photos on the laptops, however, can be peeled off. Laptops have been the gadgets of choice for many a politician, including Jayalalithaa and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who find them to be a perfect fit for their narrative of bridging the digital divide between various strata of society.
Siddaramaiah, who stormed to power in 2013 with the backing of his AHINDA (short for minorities, backward classes and Dalits) vote bank, has kept his focus on the grouping with multiple schemes targeting SC/STs and other backward classes. In the 2017-18 Karnataka budget, he announced a string of schemes, including a Rs3 lakh incentive for widows belonging to SC/ST communities who remarry, a Rs2 lakh incentive to SC/ST youths who marry someone from a sub-caste and a Rs5 crore plan to help create job opportunities for youths in private enterprises where the government will bear the employees’ share of ESI and PF contributions.
He has even announced a power subsidy of Rs2 per unit during the first five years to new SC/ST entrepreneurs who set up small industrial units.