To understand any election and the mood of the people, Indian analysts usually look through the lens of caste and religion. We miss the magical power of ration quotas—sarvajanik vitran pranali—and welfare schemes on elections.
Look at the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana or the pension schemes —some people have got its benefits, some are still waiting, some don’t even know how much they are eligible for. But most people aspire to it in villages and towns. Or take the ration quota system of the Centre. The food rationing system has been digitised in most states, allowing beneficiaries to claim their subsidised rations from any fair price shop. It reaches the public beyond any party favour or disfavour.
Most villagers in Mungari in Karchhana Tehsil, Uttar Pradesh are happy with the free rice, chana, refined oil, and salt being distributed by the government. They are glad that the kotedars, Pradhan or officers can’t stop their rations since a biometric machine now decides the distribution of free ration. The government is both present and absent for the villagers through these welfare schemes.
I observed during my fieldwork in the rural areas of Uttar Pradesh that a section of people have benefited from these welfare measures — regardless of caste or religion— while others are aspiring to be in queue. The beneficiary community—or labharthi samooh in the language of the government—is constituted mostly by the poor, downtrodden and marginalised people of society. This community consists of people from across caste and religious groups and, to a certain extent, ruptures the polarisation narrative of certain parties. All political parties create their own beneficiaries for electoral benefit. But some parties constantly keep evolving their beneficiaries and follow-up to ensure they become a part of the party’s voting bloc. Through welfare schemes, an aspirational group of voters is also created — who want the houses, the rations and electricity.
And that’s where the BJP government is ahead when it comes to the Uttar Pradesh elections.
Journey from hope to vote
Like other governments, the Narendra Modi-led NDA government has also worked to facilitate the speedy formation of a beneficiary class in India. State-led popular welfare policies and schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, Ayushman Bharat, Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awas Yojana, free grain distribution programs and various pensions and cash transfer schemes reach the downtrodden and rural middle-class beneficiaries.
This beneficiary class includes not only those who get direct benefits but also their families and a larger group of potential beneficiaries. It creates an aspirational group of people who see others in their village or town get the benefits. In the process, this group does not remain limited as a conventional economic class but transforms into a consciousness. The PM housing scheme is a typical example of how aspirations work to keep involving the public with the giver — the political agency. Those who got houses under the scheme, are happy but now asking for free electricity, and the eligible poor who did not get houses are hoping to get it this year. The Budget announcement of 80 lakh houses in 2022-23 may raise their aspirations and persuade them to vote for the BJP in the hopes of getting a house.
This beneficiary consciousness works as lifeline and inspires the most marginal social groups. It is a politically passive but extremely strong consciousness and motivator. However, such beneficiary consciousness is immediate, temporary and fragile, but may turn into identity consciousness through constant follow-up by a political agency.
The BJP understands this ongoing process well and is trying to evolve an identity for these beneficiary groups. That is why they keep in touch by organising meetings and political rallies in specific areas. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath requested party karyakartas to go to the houses of PM Awas Yojana beneficiaries and celebrate Diwali with them.
This is how the BJP, a cadre-based political party, is trying to convert the beneficiary consciousness into a larger and larger voting base. Whether through biometric food rations or houses.
The author is Professor and Director at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad. He tweets @poetbadri. Views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)
Source: The Print