Thursday, 30 June, 2022
HomeOpinionBJP is no longer just a Brahmin-Bania-Zamindar party. UP’s ‘labarthis’ show why

BJP is no longer just a Brahmin-Bania-Zamindar party. UP’s ‘labarthis’ show why

Modi government posing as a benevolent giver is an image that any poor will cherish because their everyday interactions with State machinery isn’t so pleasant.

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Uttar Pradesh media and public sphere is abuzz with the political behaviour of the labharthis and how they helped the Bharatiya Janata Party win the assembly elections. Labharthis are the beneficiaries of various government schemes — those who are getting direct benefits, mostly cash, from some government scheme or the other. However, there is no method to know the exact impact of such schemes on the electoral behaviours of the beneficiaries and how it sits with other factors involved. Going by the seriousness with which the BJP pursued and propagated these schemes during its election campaign, it is worth ascertaining, not only for the scholars of electoral studies but also for the political class, their impact.

  • On 3 November 2021, the UP government announced that the free ration scheme, launched during the Covid period, will continue till Holi. This scheme covers a large population. The beneficiaries got free food grain, pulses, edible oil and iodised salt. According to media reports, the government was reaching out to almost 150 million people across 75 districts of UP.
  • Just before the announcement of the election, the UP government transferred an amount of Rs 1,100 to eligible beneficiaries’ accounts to buy school uniforms for their wards. It benefitted 1.80 crore school-going students in the state.
  • The BJP made it a point to highlight the housing subsidy scheme under which beneficiaries get a support of Rs 1.25 lakh in rural and Rs 2.5 lakh in urban areas; grant for toilets, subsidised LPG cylinders, health insurance scheme and Kisan Samman Nidhi.

Through Kisan Samman Nidhi, the Narendra Modi government is giving Rs 6,000 every year to every small and marginal farmer. This money is credited directly to the beneficiary’s bank account. The scheme’s 10th instalment was transferred on 1 January 2022, barely a month before the state went to polls, and the announcement was made by the Prime Minister himself. It benefitted around 2.38 crore farmers of UP.

IIM-Rohtak director Dheeraj Sharma cites these schemes as a major factor in the BJP winning the polls. He concludes that people are “apprehensive of parties that promise unrealistic amounts of ‘freebies’ to secure their votes…voters are intelligent enough to see through such hoaxes and reorient their focus on realistically deliverable benefits that they can draw from the government.” He writes that though the Samajwadi Party also made big promises, they didn’t work because the electorate found them unrealistic. Journalist Radhika Ramaseshan calls this Welfare Hindutva and argues that “the raft of sops and freebies, doled out by the UP government with the Centre’s back-up, is ostensibly as much of a vote-catcher as Hindutva.”

Also read: Bolder, sharper, more assertive — What Uttar Pradesh can expect from Yogi 2.0

Is the BJP a party for the rich and big corporations?

The Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi relentlessly try to paint the BJP as a party of select big corporations, ridiculing the government’s “pro ultra-rich policies.” The party accuses the Modi government of making policies and decisions that benefit a small number of friendly corporate houses.

The BJP and its earlier avatar the Jana Sangh have always been branded as the party of Brahmin-Bania-Zamindar (priestly class, rural landed castes and urban businessmen). But the labharthi narrative tells a different story. How to make sense of these two seemingly divergent and contrasting ideas?

Is the BJP a party of the rich or is it a party that gives doles to millions of poor people? I don’t see any contradiction in the BJP being a pro-corporate party and at the same time, pursuing policies giving some relief to masses thereby creating electoral dividends. The Congress has also done similar things with MNREGA, mid-day meals, Indira Awaas Yojana to name a few.

The core difference between the schemes of these two parties is the inclusion of cash components. Then there is the difference in the effectiveness of delivery. As the government is now equipped with BPL census (renamed as Socio Economic Caste Census, 2011) data and most bank accounts linked to Aadhar, implementation of direct cash benefit transfers has become effective. Some of the Modi government’s welfare schemes — grant for construction of toilets and subsidised LPG cylinders— are innovative. Both these schemes benefitted women the most. Are women becoming new vote banks of the BJP? We don’t know for sure. This is worth academic investigation.

There have been studies and surveys to suggest that more and more poor are now finding the BJP as their preferred choice in the elections. Based on CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it was suggested that the BJP had almost equal support among the poor, lower class and middle class. Its support among the rich electorate is higher at 44 per cent. Interestingly, the survey found that in comparison to 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s support increased the most among the poor. Whether this is related to the welfare schemes or not is anybody’s guess.

One may argue that these welfare schemes have not changed the economic status of the families as during the same period jobs were lost due to a range of reasons including shocks like demonetisation, Covid-19 restrictions and other international and domestic factors. Inflation too is on the rampage. But the Modi government posing as a benevolent giver is an image that any poor will cherish because in a poor man’s life, the everyday interactions with the government machinery isn’t so pleasant. Police and government officials are a big reason for that. Cash transfers might be changing their perception of the government and so the voting preferences, especially in north India. This is not a novelty in many parts of southern states.

It will be interesting to see how other parties in the north respond to the BJP’s politics of blending Hindutva with welfarism.

Dilip Mandal is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi Magazine, and has authored books on media and sociology. Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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