Contrasting Styles Of Modi And Mamata Banerjee

Published: June 29, 2017 11:05 IST
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In the same week, two Indian political leaders travelled to the Netherlands. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit had bells and whistles and a cavalcade of limousines. Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's visit was low-key, a humble journey in the life of a very humble woman. But a woman who is a genuine achiever - not given to propaganda and PR campaigns.

Mamata Banerjee was in the Hague to receive the United Nations Public Service Award for 2017 for the Bengal government's Kanyashree programme. This is not the first award or accolade Kanyashree has won. In July 2014, it was represented as one of the "best practices" at the Girl Summit 2014, organised by Department for International Development, United Kingdom, and UNICEF. In 2014-15, it won a silver prize in the National Award for e-Governance, under the category of "Outstanding Performance in Citizen-Centric Service."

Kanyashree is the Bengal government's flagship project for empowerment of the girl child and the young woman. It has sometimes, and erroneously, been compared to the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao initiative of the central government but is actually much, much more meaningful.

Kanyashree was launched in 2013. Since then, August 14 has been celebrated as Kanyashree Diwas every year. Its budget for 2015-16 is Rs 1,000 crore (Since it was started, the Kanyashree budget is Rs 3,300 crores; a whopping 500 million USD). Under the programme, a scholarship of Rs 750 is to be paid to girls in the age group 13 to 18 years (studying in Class VIII equivalent or above) for every year that they remain in education, provided they stay unmarried. When the girl turns 18, she is given a one-time grant of Rs 25,000 for academic or job-oriented investment. The idea is to educate and empower the girl child, and to delay marriage and child birth, so that early pregnancy and its health burden are prevented.

In four years, Kanyashree has helped and empowered 3.9 million girls. Before the summer ends, the four million figure will be crossed. The programme is end-to-end IT-enabled. It is transparent, with little scope for leakages. Benefits are easily accessible to girls from even rural and poor families. In fact, benefits under Kanyashree are specifically targeted at them.

Now consider what Beti Bachao Beti Padhao has done. Launched in 2015, it has a budget of Rs 200 crore nationally (2017-18), a fifth of the budget of Kanyashree, but Beti Bachao Beti Padhao provides no monetary benefits. Its primary task is to "raise awareness". This is a smart euphemism for pasting posters and placing advertisements with the photograph of the Prime Minister and gaining ancillary politically mileage for the BJP.

So how many young women has Beti Bachao Beti Padhao helped so far? No official figures are available.

Kanyashree, on the other hand, is a brand which has been built not by just promotional exercises. It is genuinely helping people. Take the story of Anjupa Khatun from Cooch Behar. She is a young girl from a traditionally conservative community. She is also a budding lawyer. Kanyashree helped her finish school. Additionally, she received a bicycle under Sabuj Sathi - another Bengal government scheme - that helped her reach school faster and made it easier to go to post-school tuitions. After graduating from school, she availed her Rs 25,000 grant to study law. Her parents and her family, her school and her village, must be so proud.

For me, Anjupa Khatun epitomises the idealism of Kanyashree. It tells me why Oscar-winning film-maker Megan Mylan was moved to make a film, After My Garden Grows - the story of a young girl's fight to stave off marriage and help her family overcome poverty. By educating herself with the support of Kanyashree.

And yet the central government, led by the BJP, was churlish enough to exclude a Republic Day tableau from Bengal that happened to have a Kanyashree theme. Perhaps it was worried this would show up the hollowness of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao.

Why has Kanyashree succeeded? It is a new and specific programme, designed keeping Bengal's and India's social challenges in mind. Beti Bachao Beti Padhao is a compilation of older schemes such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, Dhanlakshmi and Sabla. As a 2016 report said of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, "The scheme has marked targets such as increasing enrollment at secondary level, reducing drop-out rates, and enhance girls' access to education."

But while setting targets, it has not provided any solutions to meeting those targets. It is a table-top exercise - unlike Kanyashree, which goes down to the grassroots. That single fact is a pointer to why Mamata Banerjee is head and shoulders above the BJP in understanding popular aspirations and delivering on them.

I concede though that she doesn't have the BJP's flair for publicity and for taking other people's programmes and repackaging and renaming them. But as David Ogilvy famously put it, "Great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster." One day (soon), the BJP will find out.

(Derek O'Brien is leader, parliamentary party Trinamool Congress (RS), and Chief National spokesperson of the party.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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