What is the secret of the BJP's success in Chhattisgarh at a time when its influence is shrinking in most other parts of the country?
Untouched by anti-incumbency sentiment, it won the last assembly election in end 2008 with 50 out of 90 seats, just one seat less than it had done in 2003. Even as the BJP got a drubbing in the recent Lok Sabha polls, in Chhattisgarh it grabbed 10 of the 11 Lok Sabha seats, exactly the same number it had done in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls as well.
Chief minister Raman Singh asserts that supplying salt and shoes – not Hindutva – to the tribals in this predominantly tribal state, did the trick.
The tribals, comprising about 32 per cent of the state’s population, witnessed a radical change in their quality of life with the introduction of these two items in their life.
The state government began supplying iodised salt through the Public distribution system and provided shoes to the tendu leaf collectors, who frequently die of snakebite in the jungles when they move on bare feet.
The BJP, which came to power in the state in 2003, knew it. So, alongside cheap rice for all BPL families, it provided iodised salt and charan paduka (footwear) as well.
Each BPL family gets 2 kg of salt under the Amrit Namak Yojana, and 35 kg of cheap rice per month under the Chief Minister Food Security Scheme.
Rama Nag (28), a resident of Bhejabhadr village, about 20 km from Jagdalpur, Bastar district headquarters, revealed why it was important to him. “Now I don’t need to barter my forest produce collections for salt in the local market. I get 1 kg of salt for just 25 paise.”
On Charan paduka, Bhatri bai (48) said, “We never had any protective gear for our feet in the forest. And deaths due to snakebite were commonplace among us.” Bhatri bai has been using the paduka since BJP leader L.K. Advani launched the scheme in November 2005.
The government distributed over 38 lakh pairs of shoes till 2008. This year, another 13 lakh pairs will be distributed in the 32 forest circles, said A.K. Singh, managing director of Chhattisgarh Minor Forest Produce Federation.
CM Raman Singh told HT that announcing schemes was just not enough. It’s implementation followed by good governance that brought people closer to his government.
He announced that from July 1, salt would be distributed free among tribals.
Singh also claimed that the scheme was being monitored online. “Anyone can call a toll free number to register their complaints or lodge them online. Officials access them regularly and address the grievances immediately,” said Vishwanath Netam, food controller in Bastar.