Rattled by the enormous response the Congress’s promise of providing free houses and plots has received, Gujarat CM Narendra Modi has quietly launched a scheme to provide Rs. 45,000 to about 2 million below poverty line (BPL) families in the state’s rural areas.
Three months ahead of the assembly polls in the state, more than 400,000 BPL families have already received Rs. 21,000 each in their bank accounts, opened by the respective district authorities, as the first installment to build houses under Sardar Awas Yojna (SAY), a Gujarat government scheme. The chief minister pushed the scheme through last month.
This Rs. 1,600-crore pre-poll bonanza, the chief minister’s campaign managers are hoping,
will help the BJP in the following ways. It will:
* Win over the rural BPL population of tribal and OBC voters, who have traditionally been Congress supporters. These groups account for about 30% of the electorate;
* Offset the expected loss of the 16% Patel vote, mainly in Saurashtra, which has traditionally gone to the BJP. This time, however, a large section of the Patel community is expected to rally behind Keshubhai Patel, the tallest Patel leader in the state, who quit the saffron party recently to launch his own political party; and
* Halt, or, at least, stall the momentum the Congress’s populist promises of providing free housing has generated for the party.
“All district administrations were tasked to identify the beneficiaries under the housing scheme and to open bank accounts in their names so
that the first installment amount can be deposited,” said RM Patel, additional chief secretary of Gujarat, a 1977 batch IAS officer who is taking voluntary retirement to contest the assembly polls on a BJP ticket from the reserved Asarwa assembly segment in Ahmedabad.
District wise figures of the beneficiaries make it clear that the Modi administration is concentrating on pockets which are Congress strongholds. For example, 61,000 families have received Rs. 21,000 each in Dahod district, while 37,000 in neighbouring Panchmahal and 32,000 in Kheda district have also received the funds. These districts are considered Congress bastions.