(Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint)
(Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint)

BJP banks on Modi, 220 million beneficiaries of flagship schemes to increase its voter base

  • BJP leaders are confident that a large section of these beneficiaries will choose NDA rather than vote on basis of caste and religion for a regional party
  • Nearly 348.7 million bank accounts have been opened in the last five years under the Jan Dhan programme

NEW DELHI : Modi Hai, To Mumkin Hai" (If Modi is there, it is possible), says the tagline of advertisements by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), encapsulating its two biggest poll planks in the general elections.

The party’s first poll strategy is to encash the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the credibility he enjoys with voters. The second is that the BJP is banking on 220 million people, especially those from financially and socially weaker sections, who have benefitted from various government programmes.

Members of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) believe the beneficiaries of government programmes hold the key to the NDA’s return. The NDA would make history if it returns to power for a second consecutive term.

“If we look at the past five years of the BJP-NDA government at the centre, it is clear that the government has systematically worked for the upliftment of the poor and socially weaker sections. The very first task of the government was to allow the poor access to bank accounts through the Jan Dhan programme. It has also helped curb corruption by directly transferring money to the bank accounts of beneficiaries," said a senior BJP leader who is part of the party’s election strategy team.

Nearly 348.7 million bank accounts have been opened in the last five years under the Jan Dhan programme, of which nearly 190 million are in rural India with the remaining 130 million in urban India, said senior BJP leaders. Interestingly, the government programmes also work in tandem with the political and electoral strategy.

(Graphic: Sarvesh Kumar Sharma/Mint)

For instance, the highest number of Jan Dhan accounts in a state, nearly 50 million, have been opened in Uttar Pradesh, while in Bihar the total number is more than 34 million. These two states are crucial for the NDA as together they have 120 Lok Sabha seats, of which the NDA won 104 in the 2014 general elections.

Under the Saubhagya scheme to provide electricity connections, so far 25 million households have been electrified out of a targeted 25.4 million households. Similarly, the government scheme to provide free cooking gas connections to 80 million poor families under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, has reached 70 million households so far.

Another initiative that the NDA believes could be a game changer for the alliance in this election is the Ayushman Bharat programme, which aims to provide health insurance to at least 500 million people both in urban and rural India. Party leaders also point out that the recently announced PM-Kisan scheme, which plans to provide 6,000 annually to farmers who have less than 5 acres of land, would benefit the ruling alliance against the opposition. There are 120 million farmers across India who could benefit from the scheme, and the first instalment of 2,000 has already reached the accounts of at least 20 million of them.

“The strength of the government programme is that the benefits of development do not differentiate between people on the basis of caste, religion, or region. This is the message of Prime Minister Narendra Modi—that the NDA under him believes in the guiding principle of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas and the benefits of development would reach every section, especially Scheduled Castes, tribals, and financially weaker sections," the BJP leader said.

The NDA government’s record is much better than that of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, BJP leaders claim. “We have promised housing for all by 2022 and the government has already constructed 1.5 crore (15 million) houses for the poor while in the last 70 years only 25 lakh (2.5 million) houses were built for the poor. Where is comparison with any of the governments under the Congress?" the BJP leader asked.

Electoral AND social growth

In 2014 when the BJP rode to power by getting 282 seats in the Lok Sabha, the vote share of the party was only 31%. The NDA won more than 330 seats, but senior leaders of the BJP point out that the party has consciously made efforts to reach out to different communities and sections of people in the last five years.

With the benefits of government programmes reaching at least 220 million beneficiaries, BJP leaders are confident that a large section of these beneficiaries would choose the NDA rather than voting on the basis of caste and religion for a regional party that is contesting to oppose the Union government. “Our belief in the work done by the government is not without reason. The BJP had got 17.16 crore (171.6 million) votes in 2014 out of the total 83.4 crore (834 million) voters. We believe that most of the 34.87 crore (348.7 million) beneficiaries of government schemes have not been part of the traditional voter base of the party. Of these 34.87 crore beneficiaries, at least 22 crore (220 million) people who benefitted from at least one flagship scheme of the government would vote for the BJP. We are confident that these people would choose development over caste and religion," said the BJP leader.

The party has created a separate team that would only reach out to beneficiaries of government schemes and try to convince them to vote for the BJP. Senior leaders believe that the party organization has nearly 110 million registered members who are being used for this purpose.

The BJP has also come up with election slogans such as Kaam Kare Jo, Umeed Ussi Se Ho (The one who works, people expect from them), Congress Ke 55 saal, Modi Ke 55 Mahine (55 years of Congress versus 55 months of Modi).

“All the slogans are about the work done by the government in the last five years. The slogans during 2014 were a promise that if BJP comes to power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi would deliver on the promises. However, this time the slogans are about meeting the aspirations of the people and about the hope people have with this government," said a senior BJP leader who is part of the party’s manifesto committee.

Another slogan that is being often used by BJP members is Saaf Niyat, Sahi Vikas (Good intentions, balanced development). This slogan is often used by the party in promoting the work done by the NDA government, especially when the centre talks about having provided corruption-free government in the last five years of NDA.

“The UPA government was all about scams in most of the important sectors. There is not one allegation against the NDA government. The opposition talked about Rafale but the allegations did not stand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court," the BJP leader quoted above said.

However, the problem for the party is that the organizational machinery is not working up to the expectations of the central leaders in Delhi. The idea was to reach every household in villages and rural India, but party leaders believe that workers are not reaching out to everyone.

“We have to repeatedly go to these people, talk to them and try to convince them to vote for the BJP. Opposition leaders are also going to villages and households so it is important to cover as much ground as possible. It is not an easy task. We are continuously monitoring the progress of the outreach programme," said the BJP leader.

Political analysts believe that BJP is focusing on beneficiaries because it is under pressure from opposition parties that are asking the government to spell out what the NDA has done to deliver on its pledges in the last five years.

“The BJP will focus on beneficiaries of government schemes because opposition parties are repeatedly asking them about the work done by the government in the last five years. These beneficiaries are not traditional voters of BJP but many of them had voted for the BJP in the 2014 general elections. That is why the BJP got 282 seats. The vote share of the BJP increased to 31% because many people who are not traditional voters of the party voted for it in the previous general election," said Sanjay Kumar, political analyst and director of Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

Asit Ranjan Mishra contributed to this story.

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