How 'Antyodaya' Pitch Helped BJP Replace Congress as the Party of the Poor

The credibility, among the poor, of the BJP in general and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular, was reinforced through successful marketing of schemes and visible delivery of benefits.

The BJP has emerged as the standard-bearer of ‘Garibi Hatao’, replacing the Congress not just as a big tent social coalition, but as the party of the poor. The change in perception was enabled through a gradual build-up of the 'antyodaya' or 'last man' narrative, effective delivery of entitlements and a fine grasp of voter psychology.

Post-poll analysis and surveys, most notably by Lokniti and India Today-Axis, have found that the BJP spectacularly improved its performance among the socially and economically backward sections over 2014 and outstripped all other parties. Low-income groups voted even more enthusiastically for the BJP than middle-income groups.

The CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey of social media usage indicates that the BJP scored better among non-social media users, who presumably belong to the economically weaker sections. The accepted view that social media users – typically young, well-educated and better-off – drove the BJP's bandwagon is now open to question. The party seems to have succeeded across all demographics, but more so among the have-nots.

During the campaign, the BJP's Balakot hyperbole was matched only by its anti-poverty rhetoric, which the Congress sought in vain to match with its NYAY (Nyuntam Aay Yojana or minimum income guarantee scheme). The voters were reminded of the long list of anti-poverty schemes launched by the NDA, in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi and Deendayal Upadhyay's 'antyodaya'.

Rhetoric alone would not have enabled the BJP's transition from a party of the middle-class to a party of the masses. The credibility, among the poor, of the BJP in general and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular, was reinforced through successful marketing of schemes and visible delivery of benefits.

The “ek aur chan-us (one more chance)” sentiment among voters was a clear indicator that at least some of targeted beneficiaries had received entitlements and the rest were hopeful that they would, too.

The PM's credibility took a quantum jump in 2015, with the 'GiveItUp' campaign, when millions of LPG users responded to his call for voluntary surrender of subsidies, in order to benefit the poor. It was followed up with the Ujawala scheme for cooking gas connections to poor households.

While there was no direct connection between the GiveItUp campaign and the Ujwala scheme on paper, in the minds of the voters, the two were linked. For the first time since Lal Bahadur Shastri, altruism became an instrument of public policy.

Demonetisation was a variation on the same spirit of 'tyaga'. Here was the PM, asking voters to make sacrifices for the greater good of the nation. While all political parties play on the 'dependency syndrome' or hand-outs for the poor, the PM was asking the poor for a hand and infusing a sense of participation in nation-building.

But for PM Modi's direct connect with voters, extravagant gestures like washing the feet of sanitation workers, may not have been half as effective. He was ably supported by the BJP's 'P2V' or party to voter contact. This is evident from the CSDS-Lokniti survey, which found that awareness of the BJP's core message (Balakot) was higher than that of the Congress (NYAY and Rafale).

In the Digital Age, Garibi Hatao comes in a variety of acronyms and eponyms: from APY (Atal Pension Yojana) to PMAY (Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana) to PMUY (Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana). The NDA began its terms in 2014 with three flagship schemes: Jan Dhan, APY and PMJJBY (Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana), aimed at zero-balance bank accounts, pensions, life and accident insurance, for those below the poverty line.

The relentless rollout of acronyms continued over the next five years: Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) for rural electrification, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Beema Yojana (PMFBY) for crop insurance, Ayushman Bharat for health insurance, Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) for domestic cooking gas, right up to PM Kisan Samman Nidhi for income support to small farmers.

Aadhaar and Jan Dhan were leveraged for Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), ironically launched under the UPA, to ensure effective delivery of entitlements. Some 439 different subsidies were covered and in 2019-20 alone, Rs 33,000 crore was transferred to Jan Dhan accounts. The BHIM App facilitated cashless transactions for the smallest of purchases. JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhar, Mobile) may well have been one of the factors that sweetened the BJP's electoral cake.

The momentum of the 'antyodaya' message is continuing, with the PM pointedly hammering it home in all public forums.

(Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)