Ladli Behna is being seen as Shivraj Singh Chouhan's masterstroke
As the BJP swept the Madhya Pradesh election, the result flying in the face of exit poll predictions, the spotlight is on the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government's welfare schemes such as 'Ladli Behna' that helped BJP tap into women votes and swung the polls in its favour.
The 'Ladli Behna' scheme, aimed at making women financially independent, is being considered a masterstroke by the four-time chief minister that helped BJP seal the victory in the heartland state.
The Mukhya Mantri Ladli Behna Scheme was launched by Chief Minister Chouhan in March this year. Under the scheme, women in the 23-60 years age group receive Rs 1,000 every month in their bank accounts. This amount, the BJP has promised, will go up to Rs 3,000 gradually. The objective is to make women self-reliant and also empower them to address their health and nutrition requirements by providing them financial support.
Who's Eligible, Who's Not
Married women residents of Madhya Pradesh in the 23-60 years age group are eligible to avail the scheme's benefit. This includes widows, divorced and abandoned women, according to the scheme's website.
Women from families with an annual income more than Rs 2.5 lakh are not eligible for the scheme's benefits. Women who are income tax payers or whose family members are government employees are also ineligible. Unmarried women cannot avail of the scheme either. Women whose family members are elected public representatives cannot avail the benefits. If a woman is already receiving an amount less than Rs 1,000 under any other scheme, the difference will be paid to her under the 'Ladli Behna' scheme. The scheme also stands out because the monthly instalments would only get deposited in her account and not that of her husband or any other relative.
The 40-member team involved in implementing the scheme pulled off a Herculean task by registering 1.25 crore women under the scheme and crediting the assistance monthly in 99 per cent of the accounts, all within just 100 days. This was achieved through hundreds of camps set up for the registration. There would be long queues, but the process would take just minutes, even in rural areas.
Abhijit Agarwal, Managing Director of MP State Electronics Development Corporation Limited, said the backbone of the scheme's implementation was the Aadhaar database. At the camps, the women's bank accounts would be linked to their phone numbers and Aadhaar. "Once the KYC process was completed, the data would come to us. This would also reduce the chance of human error," said the IAS officer.
Madhya Pradesh has over 23,000 panchayats and over 7,000 wards. The team of 40 members completed registration of over a crore women within three months. Members of the team said that on some days, data of more than 50,000 women was being uploaded on the registration app.
Rahul Gurjar, an engineer part of the team, said they would work 16-20 hours a day. "Ever since this project started, we worked tirelessly. We skipped every festival. We tried to work even if we were sick," said Shivani, another engineer on the team.
When the Congress announced a monthly assistance of Rs 1,500 in the run-up to the Assembly polls, the ruling BJP tweaked the 'Ladli Behna' policy and hiked the monthly amount to Rs 1,250. Chief Minister Chouhan also said this amount would be increased gradually and go up to Rs 3,000 a month.
"The Mukhya Mantra Ladli Behna Yojana has started with Rs 1,000, but it won't stop there. Your brother will keep increasing it," Mr Chouhan then said. Congress's Kamal Nath had then said this was a desperate attempt by the ruling party to save its "sinking ship" and stressed that it won't work, but the Chief Minister was confident. Even a day after the election, Mr Chouhan said the scheme was removing all thorns from the BJP's way to victory.
Why 'Ladli Behna' Worked?
The scheme's launch could be a political move in a poll year. But it is important to understand why it's crucial in a state and Madhya Pradesh and why it could potentially swing women votes. According to National Health and Family Survey data, 23 per cent of women in the 15-49 years age group have a body mass index lower than normal. Nearly 55 per cent of women in this age group are anaemic.
Only about 40 per cent of women in the state own house/land individually or jointly. Only 38.5 women in the state have a mobile phone of their own. The number of women in the state's workforce, both in urban and rural areas, are also dismal. Against this backdrop, a scheme that puts money in their hands can potentially help them better care of themselves. 'Ladli Behna' also ensured that the amount did not go to a male relative - a system that has often been misused. The scheme worked for women and, as the results showed, for the BJP too.