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Lok Sabha polls 2019: Modi's eight magnets that can attract voters to BJP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Even as the infamous ‘India Shining’ campaign of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections remains a black mark on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) history, come 2019, with Modi as the lead Sherpa, the party will have more substance to back its aggressive marketing campaign.

While the voters were not impressed with BJP’s hardsell in 2004, the 2019 elections could be a different ball game altogether. That’s because the party, unlike in 2004, has focused on urban and rural voters alike, though questions still remain if large-scale farm loan waivers can assuage the anger of farmers who have been battling crashing prices, crop failures and rising input costs. Though India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth was impacted by demonetisation and small traders suffered with the unprepared rollout of a half-baked Good & Services Tax (GST), the Modi government will hope that some of its key socio-economic reforms will counteract any electoral blowbacks.

The following eight charts explore Modi’s vote magnets in greater detail and provide a glimpse of why Indians might be inclined to vote the BJP back to power.

1. Modi: The banker of the unbanked

India’s public sector banks whose balance sheets have been destroyed by multi-billion-dollar defaults by big corporate houses would have shuddered at the thought of lending money to the poorest of the poor with no creditworthiness. One of the Modi government’s pet schemes was the Prime Minister’s MUDRA Yojana (PMMY), which provided loans as small as Rs 50,000 to the poor for starting their own businesses. In 2017-18, more than 48 million poor people across India were given Rs 2.5 trillion in loans. Most of these loans were less than Rs 1 million. The chart shows how these loan disbursements grew since the launch of the scheme in 2015-16 and how Dalits and backward castes were big beneficiaries of this largesse.

2. The precursors to Modicare

Much before Modi announced the rollout date of Ayushman Bharat in his last Independence Day speech, his government had announced two big-ticket insurance schemes for Indian citizens – rich and poor alike. The Modi government announced a life insurance scheme called the Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana, which provided a cover of Rs 200,000 for a premium of Rs 330 a year. His government also announced an accident coverage scheme called the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana, which provided a cover of Rs 200,000 for accidental death for a premium of Rs 12 per annum. In a country like India, where road accidents claim thousands of lives every year, the latter proved to be a big success. As the following chart shows, more than 130 million people had enrolled for the scheme till 2017-18. The life insurance scheme also saw almost Rs 18 billion in life insurance claims being paid in 2017-18.

3. Lighting hearths and hearts with LPG

One of the most striking achievements of the Modi government is the manner in which it has enabled millions of Below Poverty Line (BPL) households to get a Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) connection. Many of these households could have never imagined feeding their families without relying on firewood. When the Modi government came to power, less than half of India’s 270 million households used LPG. In 2017-18, almost two-thirds of Indian households now have access to cooking gas, after being provided connections under the Modi government’s Ujjwala scheme. While critics have questioned that many poor households will not be able to afford expensive refills of LPG cylinders, there is little doubt that millions of voters will associate the radical transformation of their kitchens with Modi’s pet scheme.

4. Millions of Indians saw a bank for the first time

More than seven decades after independence, large swathes of India’s population were still unbanked. This effectively left them out of the so-called formal economy. That was until the Modi government announced the Jan Dhan Yojana in 2015. The scheme aimed at providing a bank account to every unbanked Indian. Those wishing to avail of RuPay debit cards could also get them along with their bank accounts. Since its launch, there has been an explosion in the number of bank accounts. As the following chart will show, more than 300 million bank accounts have been opened as of 2018 under the scheme. This scheme also helped recpaitalise Indian banks with the money of the poor. In 2018-19, the balance in these Jan Dhan accounts was more than Rs 807 billion. While there are concerns over zero-balance accounts, there is little doubt that millions of Indians had a banking experience for the first time in their lives.

5. The great Indian toilet revolution

For many Indians, using a toilet was a luxury and for others an inconvenience for various reasons like lack of water and toilet maintenance issues. But the Modi government launched a massive psychological campaign to change the mindset of Indians in favour of using toilets and curbing open defecation. In many cases, it involved shaming people, imposing fines and invoking religious dogma to drive home the point. It also roped in Bollywood’s biggest star Amitabh Bachchan, along with others, as the brand ambassador for this campaign. The results of this psychological goading and celebrity endorsement worked wonders. When the Modi government came to power in 2014, only a quarter of all Indian households used toilets. As the following chart will show, almost 49 per cent of households now have access to toilets. In effect, the Modi government in four years doubled the number of poor households using toilets instead of answering nature’s call in the open.

6. Cash in the hands of the poor

While the BJP’s political opponents have taunted Modi repeatedly over his election time promise of depositing Rs 1.5 million in the bank accounts of every Indian by getting back black money stashed abroad, a look at the amount of money transferred by the Modi government in the bank accounts of poor as Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) in place of providing subsidised food and other subsidies in kind shows a massive revolution underway in the country in terms of how the state benefits are doled out to the poorest of the poor across the country. As the following chart shows, more than Rs 1.7 trillion was given to 1.2 billion beneficiaries – many of them beneficiaries of multiple schemes in which benefits in kind were replaced with cash transfers.

7. Taking electricity to the last frontier

When the Modi government assumed power in 2014, there were 25,982 unelectrified villages in India. By 2018, there were only 343 unelectrified inhabited villages left. Then, in April 2018, Modi announced that the village of Leisang in Manipur has become the last village in India to be electrified. While the definition of an electrified village in India would make many people mock how India approaches electrifying the homes of its citizens, there is little doubt that electrification since 2014 has been done on a war footing. As the following chart shows, the biggest push in electrifying villages came in 2016-17, when there was a drastic fall in the number of unelectrified villages in India. While those who have got access to power for the first time in their lives will thank the Modi government, there still remain two areas of concern – preventing electrified villages from being de-electrified and moving from electrifying just a handful of households to intensive electrification of every village in India.

8. India’s internet revolution

While internet usage has been growing in India over the years, there has been an explosion in the number of broadband wireless connections and mobile internet usage in India since the Modi government came to power. Various private studies show that internet speeds and mobile penetration in India have grown manifold over the past few years. This revolution hasn’t happened silently, either. Modi has been quick to aggressively market his ‘Digital India’ dreams and also pushed hard for digital banking since demonetisation. Official information suggests that broadband internet penetration in India has grown eight times over since the Modi government came to power – primarily driven by wireless technology. With almost every Indian now owning a mobile phone and data charges at their lowest in years, there is little doubt that Indian voters will think of the BJP whenever they hold an internet-enabled mobile in their hands.


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