With the Opposition framing its 2024 Lok Sabha election agenda around the politics of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and caste census, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said the poor, youth, women, and farmers are the “biggest castes” and that uplifting them would make the country developed. The PM set the tone for the BJP’s Lok Sabha election campaign, pitching the “Modi guarantee” against the guarantee politics of the Congress and other Opposition parties.
Modi’s remarks came at a video interaction with welfare beneficiaries — labharthis, a loyal support base of the BJP — organised as part of the Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra two days after the Union Cabinet approved the extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) for five years starting January. The scheme aims to provide free foodgrains to 81.35 crore people under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).
“Mere liye desh ki sabse badi chaar jatiyan hain. Mere liye sabse badi jaati hai garib. Mere liye sabse badi jaati hai yuva, mere liye sabse badi jaati hai mahilayen. Mere liye sabse badi jaati hai kisan. In char jatiyon ka utthan hi Bharat ko viksit banayega. Agar chaar ka ho jayega to iska matlab sabka ho jayega (For me, there are four biggest castes in the country. For me, the biggest caste is the poor. For me, the biggest caste is the youth. The biggest caste for me is women, the biggest caste for me is farmers. Only the upliftment of these four castes will make India developed. And if it happens to four, it means it will happen to everyone),” Modi said.
The PM said the government had taken the step to ensure that the poor do not go hungry. “Garib ka bachha bhooka na jaye, kisi garib ke ghar ka choola na bujhe (no child from a poor family should sleep hungry and the stove in any house of the poor should not go out). So, our Cabinet has approved the extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana for the next five years,” the PM said.
Modi also launched an initiative to increase the number of Jan Aushadhi Kendras, which sell medicines at subsidised rates, from 10,000 to 25,000 and the Drone Didi Yojana to provide drones to 15,000 women self-help groups from 2024 to 2026 for providing rental services to farmers for agriculture purposes.
“From his speech today and the messages we have received in the run-up to the recent Assembly elections, it is very clear that the welfare of the poor or garib kalyan is going to be the major plank of the BJP in the coming election. The PM also wants to counter the guarantee politics of the Opposition parties, especially of the Congress, with Modi guarantee. It will be Modi guarantee versus other guarantees of the Congress and other parties in the 2024 elections,” said a BJP leader involved with the party’s electioneering in the Assembly elections.
The PM said his guarantees would outdo the others. “Jahan par doosron se ummeed kam ho jati hai, wahi se Modi ki guarantees shuru ho jati hai. Aur isliye hi Modi ki guarantee wali gaadi ki dhum machi hui hai. (Where hope from others ends, Modi’s guarantees begin from there. And that is why Modi’s guarantees are popular).”
The Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra is being held nationally to ensure that the benefits of the Centre’s welfare schemes reach all beneficiaries in time so that the BJP retains and expands its support base of labharthis. This bloc of supporters has been one of the BJP’s strengths in elections since 2017-’18. BJP leaders have claimed that this ever-growing loyal base, irrespective of caste differences, helped the party to mark a spectacular win in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and key state polls. But, with Opposition parties and non-BJP state governments announcing a series of welfare initiatives and promises, gaining an upper hand in the welfare politics battle has become a major challenge for the ruling party.
‘Transcending caste lines’
The PM’s “four-caste” formula is a pushback against the Opposition’s OBC politics — advanced through the demand for a caste census — that has the potential to hurt the BJP’s backward class support base.
A senior BJP MP described the PM’s comments as an attempt to create another bloc of support base by moving above caste lines. “Like the labharthi support that transcends caste lines, the Prime Minister wants to create another bloc that again would be above caste differences. Until now, the regional and caste sentiments were considered the hallmark of the regional parties. But now the Congress is playing the caste card openly for the first time. The BJP is trying to counter that with a class card.”
The MP went on to explain, “It will be the old, tried and tested regional caste card for the Opposition. But what Modiji is trying is to address the classes that made the upward movement with the emergence of India. This upward class is everywhere and they are above caste lines. That is why the Prime Minister is categorising them as youth, women, farmers and the poor.”
The interaction was also marked by the PM’s message to his party to make the best use of his credibility and popularity, said a BJP leader. Besides the focus on the Modi guarantee, he mentioned that the Jan Aushadhi Kendras across the country are referred to as “Modi ki dawai ki dukaan (Modi’s medicine shops)” and named the drone policy for rural women “NaMo Drone Didi”.