Bhadohi: A group of just three Jatav families in Uttar Pradesh’s Bhadohi district is planning to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) the first time ever. The families that belong to Mayawati’s caste have always voted for the Bahujan Samaj Party. So what has changed?
“Both my sons have been given a pucca house each by the Modi government,” says a woman from one of the families. “I never thought we’d live in a pucca house. If someone has given this to us, how can we not vote for him?”
No, not many Dalits speak this way. Largely, Dalits are voting for the Samajwadi Party-BSP-Rashtriya Lok Dal ‘gathbandhan’. There are some non-Jatav Dalits too, who voted for the BJP in 2014 and 2017, but are now drifting away — they have nothing they say, neither jobs nor pucca houses.
Caste remains key to this election as any other in Uttar Pradesh. But if there’s anything that’s cutting through caste, it is ‘Brand Modi’. And after five years, ‘Brand Modi’ doesn’t stand on the legs of hope. It stands on rural development schemes: Housing, toilets, gas cylinders and Rs 2,000 for farmers.
At the very least, these schemes have ensured that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s supporters have the answer to the question, “Why Modi?”
The most universal of all the schemes is the one for toilets. Whether or not people are using it, whether or not there has been corruption, a box-like structure stands outside every other house, kachcha or pucca, like a visible symbol of Modi’s Swachh Bharat campaign.
The most popular is housing: Around Rs 2 lakh to convert your hut into a brick and mortar house is a sea change in the life of a poor family. When the Modi government came to power, it stopped the Indira Awas Yojana. After renaming and re-branding the housing scheme Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, it increased the amount. On election eve, it has pushed these houses through with a war-like urgency. On every house there are the details of the scheme, and in bold letters the financial year in which money for the house was sanctioned. On the facade of one shiny new house after another it is hard to miss the year: 2018-19.
One-time free cylinders are an old story, and even those unable to afford its refills appreciate that Modi thinks about the poor. The new story is Rs 2,000 every four months for small farmers directly in their bank accounts. Those who haven’t received it yet are hoping to get their names filed after the election.
What you don’t hear about by now, as the last phase of the Lok Sabha elections approaches, is Balakot. It’s as if it never happened. For the most part, the election is about toilets and caste, anti-incumbency and houses, unemployment and Rs 2,000.
Ironically, Modi’s vision in 2014 was “empowerment over entitlement”. Modi and his party have been openly dismissive of schemes that just give cash or goods to the poor, such as the rural employment guarantee programme, NREGA.
The Modi vision has been to empower people with loans, insurance, skills, access to the digital economy and so on. On this front Modi is unpopular: Those not voting for him complain he hasn’t created jobs and opportunities. He hasn’t helped people earn their own living to afford making houses and toilets for themselves. Against the claim that MUDRA loans have created crores of jobs, you will not find anyone talking about the scheme.
State versus central
There’s a lot that Modi’s ‘entitlement’ programmes are winning against. There’s the rather high unpopularity of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, about whom even BJP voters are unable to list a single achievement.
People do report an improvement in electricity supply but strangely don’t credit Yogi for it. For stray cattle and perceived caste discrimination in favour of upper castes, his popularity is a disadvantage for the BJP this election. Ironically, the party has converted it into an advantage, by persuading voters to give all credit to Modi and all blame to Yogi, and separating the central with the state election.
If this was a state election, the BJP would likely have been looking at a rout. It would also likely have been staring at a stunning defeat in the face of the ‘gathbandhan’ had it not been for the combination of housing, toilets, gas cylinders and Rs 2,000.