Jhansi/ Lalitpur: “I walk two to three kilometres everyday to collect firewood. Most of the day is spent at work so I leave really early in the morning to get it. No one in our family has ever used cooking gas, hopefully things will become better for us now," said Phoola, a resident of Babina in Uttar Pradesh, as she heads home, carrying a brand new gas stove with her. Her husband, walking a few steps ahead of her, carefully drags their bicycle which has a gas cylinder tied to it.
The 30-year-old, a daily wage labourer under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, is a beneficiary of the Central government’s Ujjwala Yojana, which provides liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) connections to poor women without upfront charges.
Launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 1 May 2016, the scheme has turned out to be a major welfare scheme akin to the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) rural employment guarantee scheme.
Within about 10 months of its launch, oil companies have given cooking gas connections to 17.3 million women from poor households across the country. Out of this, Uttar Pradesh benefitted the most with 5.31 million women getting LPG connections so far under the scheme, as per official statistics.
The scheme falls in line with the Prime Minister’s poll pitch of development for all and has found resonance in the state which entered its fifth phase of polling for the assembly election on Monday.
“We have always had cooking gas at home but many poor households in our village have recently got new gas connections. Being a woman I can understand the hardships faced by other women who still go out to collect firewood, leaving behind their little children at home. Modiji has delivered on his promise of working for the poorest of the poor," said 37-year-old Suman Shukla, who lives in Lalitpur.
While the idea is to give 50 million LPG connections to poor women in three years, spending Rs8,000 crore, will the Ujjwala Yojna have an impact on the Uttar Pradesh elections is the key question. The state is seeing a tight three-cornered contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
Analysts said that the scheme has inadvertently made Modi appear pro-poor and it might be one of the reasons for the BJP’s growing popularity in the state.
“Modi rode on the development pitch to power in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Since then schemes like Ujjwala or the step to demonetise high-value currency notes have only added to his image of a pro-poor leader. Even in the recently-held BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) elections, many people in the lower middle class and in the below-poverty line category voted for the BJP for the first time. We will definitely see a similar trend in the UP election as well," said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst.