Union minister for Jal Shakti Ganjendra Singh Shekhawat today said the Vishwakarma scheme, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day, was not about politics or the Other Backward Classes.
The scheme, he pointed out, was announced by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman during the presentation of the Union budget in February. He also underscored that caste and profession rarely matches these days, indicating that the Opposition allegation is off base.
The Vishwakarma Scheme -- with an allocation between Rs 13,000-Rs 15,000 crore -- will help artisans, and those earning a living through traditional skills, like carpenters, goldsmiths, masons, washermen and barbers.
The move is seen as an outreach to these OBC communities -- especially in view of the coming round of state elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, two of which are Congress-ruled states.
In Telangana, another poll-bound state, the OBCs form 54 per cent of the population, and so far has supported the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi.
Mr Shekhawat, who is from Rajasthan, agreed that people belonging to the artisan category form a substantial chunk of society.
"But I can tell you that these type of activities is not limited to any type of caste or society. You go visit all the salons and beauty parlours in Delhi. You will hardly find people who traditionally did this in this segment. The people are coming from other castes and segments," he said.
"It is not meant for any caste or segment. It is meant for artisans who are working in different sectors and playing a pivotal role in developing our country," he said.
The BJP, which traditionally has the support of so called upper castes, have been trying to gain support of the Scheduled castes and tribes and the Other Backward Classes over the last few years.
The matter has gained in importance in the backdrop of the Opposition's demand for a caste census. In Bihar, a caste census by the Nitish Kumar government is in progress.
In Rajasthan, the Ashok Gehlot government will increase Other Backward Classes reservation from 21 per cent to 26 per cent.