There was a time when a government scheme could be launched simply by handing over a giant cheque to a grateful-looking recipient. Prime Minister Narendra Modi changed all that. In 2016, for example, when he launched the Ujjwala Yojana in eastern Uttar Pradesh, which targeted handing out 80 million free LPG connections by 2020, he picked his media opportunities with care.
The picture of him handing over a cardboard gas cylinder to a burkha-clad woman four years ago is still circulated as proof of his commitment towards the social upliftment of women, Muslims and the poor. His drive to promote the Bharatiya Janata Party’s various social measures is alive to this day. Three months ago, at a beach in Tamil Nadu’s Mamallapuram, Modi went plogging. On Twitter, three million people tuned in to watch him pick up discarded soda bottles.
While critics may argue that Modi indulges in such theatrics to divert attention from the loopholes and unrealistic goals of the schemes, the fact is that by seizing media attention, he also generates public awareness. Being informed about government schemes is the first step to availing them.
The government currently offers 439 subsidy schemes which involve direct money transfers. Since 2014-15, it has transferred Rs 7.23 trillion in subsidies directly to the bank accounts of the poor. Of this, around Rs 33,314 crore was transferred in 2019-20, as per government data. India Today’s Mood of the Nation (MOTN) survey reflects this reach. Close to half (48 per cent) claim to have received a direct money transfer, while 29 per cent said they hadn’t. The Ujjwala Yojana has benefited the maximum percentage of people (27). And when it comes to assigning credit for these benefits, the BJP-led Centre is, largely, the clear winner.
The triumph of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) too can be seen in MOTN’s findings-almost half the respondents (49 per cent) rated it as a success. Thirty-seven per cent felt its progress has been ‘average’, and 9 per cent said it was a failure. What is partly responsible for SBM’s success is that the government made toilets a social issue rather than an infrastructural or economic one. Communities now openly discuss sanitation and girls feel empowered to speak to their parents about their right to private and clean toilets. In 2018, 400,000 students enrolled for SBM’s summer internship programme.
Declaring rural India to be open defecation free last October, on Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, Modi said that the mission had also created around 7.5 million jobs. “The whole world is awarding us [for] providing toilets to over 60 crore people in 60 months by building over 11 crore toilets. The world is amazed,” he said to a gathering of 20,000 village heads near Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat. In 2017, UNICEF had estimated that each household with a toilet saves Rs 50,000 annually on medical costs.
However, the impact of the BJP’s welfare plans falter whenever religion is in the equation, especially benefits from direct money transfers. Of all the MOTN survey respondents, 50 per cent of Hindus received payouts from various schemes and only 27 per cent did not. In the case of Muslims, 39 per cent did and 40 per cent did not. Thirty-five per cent of those from other religions also reported not having received direct payouts from the government, while 38 per cent said they had. While the majority seems to acknowledge the BJP’s social welfare work, there is, on the evidence of the survey, scope for better targeting of benefits among minorities. Launches alone won’t achieve that objective.