Going to polls without mascot Modi, Gujarat BJP banks on populist budget
Since its most popular mascot is no longer handy to win it elections, the Gujarat BJP has felt compelled to go to the voters with a populist budget.
The party faces an assembly election in 10 months, the first since Narendra Modi left for New Delhi.
In a sop for younger voters, Finance Minister Nitin Patel promised to provide computer tablets to 3.5 lakh students admitted to college in the next academic session, just three-four months before the election.
But unlike in other states that have announced similar schemes, the tablets would not be for free in Gujarat. Students would have to pay for the gadget, although only a nominal Rs 1,000
True, not many of these students would be eligible voters in December, but nearly all will be on electoral rolls in the summer of 2019, when Modi is set to seek a second term as the prime minister.
Although the spectre of the coming elections clearly hangs over the zero-tax budget proposals, the BJP leaders are reluctant to admit as much. Nitin Patel, for one, justified the populist measures saying he hasn't introduced new taxes because the Goods and Service Tax is likely to be rolled out from July.
The proclaimed theme of this budget is to “optimise inclusive development of human resources and trunk infrastructure through effective and transparent implementation”. Whatever these words might mean for the common man, the fact remains that the aim is to reach out to the various communities that are aggrieved with goings on in the state over the past few years.
A special package of Rs 10 crore for traditional service providers such as barbers, washermen, carpenters, tailors, cobblers and potters can certainly be construed as the government’s attempt to woo these backward communities. The money is supposed to provide for upgrading their skills and buying them better tool kits.
These communities are seen to be drifting away from the BJP, galvanised by the widespread protests against the brutality unleashed by the cow vigilantes on Dalits and others.
Free medical education for girls scoring over 80% marks is another populist measure that may earn the ruling party publicity, but its beneficiaries would be numerically insignificant.
In a tacit admission that Gujarat's farmers are indeed facing hardship, the budget proposes to provide crop loans to 14 lakh farmers at a concessional interest rate of one per cent. Also, Rs 2,000 crore is allocated for providing 1.25 lakh agricultural power connections, something that has been needed for long, but hasn't come through until an election year.
If farmers and urban youth are being wooed, how could the BJP ignore the tribals, who form the support base of the rival Congress? A “tribal university” in Narmada, in the eastern tribal belt, is the least the party could do express its love for them.
A “tribal university” in the tribal region is welcome. But the reality is that few schools in the area offer senior secondary education, the first step that would qualify the students for university.
The budget also proposes to provide nutritious subsidised food to 50,000 construction workers, allocating Rs 50 crore for the scheme. It is part of a slew of small welfare measures in the budget intended to win over various marginal sections of the society.
In an acknowledgment of the risks faced by the Dalits engaged in skinning dead cattle and tanning leather, a scheme for issuing identity cards to workers of the leather industry has been announced. This aside, there is little for the economic upliftment of the Dalits, who have borne the brunt of the violence unleashed by cow vigilantes.
The BJP's political compulsion to woo almost every section of the Gujarati society, as reflected in this year's budget, has resulted from a combination of factors, not least the annoyance of the influential Patels, the emergence of an anti-Modi sentiment and the entry of the Aam Aadmi Party.