The newly elected Chief Ministers of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh recently announced that ministers and top officials in their government will not use red beacons on their cars. This is undoubtedly a welcome step towards changing the VIP culture which exists in our politics.
However, I was reminded of my state Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, who did something on the similar lines 4 years back when she took charge, but somehow it did not attract the same applause as the newly elected leaders have got.
In fact, the media unfairly reported it as “Kejriwal effect” even though Raje had taken the decision much before Kejriwal became the Chief Minister of Delhi for 49 days. She is one of the best Chief Ministers to have come from BJP, but unfortunately, she gets a raw deal from national media as compared to someone like Devendra Fadnavis or Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
Even on social media, which is considered dominated by the supporters of BJP, she is not really a favorite. Much of it could be due to the never dying whispers that all is not well between her, RSS and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and that she can be soon replaced by someone else. But these are mere speculations that have often been denied.
Rajasthan has not voted any incumbent government back to power since 1993. It has always alternated between the BJP and Congress. As the state gears up for elections next year, can Vasundhara Raje rewrite history?
As someone who hails from the state capital, I believe that she is the best person to pull it off. I relook at some of her achievements which may help her retain the throne. Also, it is an attempt to highlight the most under-rated but one of the most efficient Chief Ministers of India.
Named after ‘Bhamashah’ who was a noted minister under Maharana Pratap, the Bhamashah program was kick-started by Vasundhara Raje towards the end of her first tenure but due to regime change, the Congress government placed this very good program on the back-burner. It was relaunched when Raje returned to power with a thumping majority.
The Bhamashah program aims at financial inclusion for women and is in tandem with the Central Government’s Jan Dhan Yojana. Under this, bank accounts of women across the state are opened which help in directly transferring the benefits to their accounts. Here, the women heads of the families get a smart card with biometrics which empowers them as only they can withdraw money. So, the chances of male head wasting the money in liquor and gambling are reduced drastically.
As per the official data, 15.4 crore Direct Benefit Transactions have been done till now. It is highly likely that women will rally behind Raje in the next elections because of the financial freedom their CM has provided them.
Apart from this the Bhamashah Swasthya Bima Yojana provides a cashless cover up to 3 Lakhs to all National Food Security Scheme families. The insurance includes private hospitals also thereby providing quality healthcare to economically weak and encourages hassle free cashless treatment.
States like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra also have these schemes but New India Insurance Company’s CMD described Rajasthan’s health insurance scheme as the best in the country. According to official data, more than 7 lakh people have got themselves treated under this program.
Though the NGOs have criticized the scheme arguing that the government is giving too much into the hands of private owners and there is excessive documentation for availing the treatment, the benefits and stories from ground suggest that the scheme is a winner:
Women welfare and empowerment
Rajasthan is one of the worst states when it comes to female sex ratio and women education. However, recent data shows that the female sex ratio has improved in the state and this is another feather in Raje’s cap. After a dismal figure of 888 females over 1000 males in 2011, Rajasthan registered a figure of 929 women per 1000 males in 2015 thereby showing vast improvement.
Likewise, the government has made efforts towards improving the literacy rate of women in the state which is the lowest in the country. Raje’s Rajshree Yojana is an attempt to improve the sex ratio and literacy rate in the state. Under this, the families are provided with an amount of Rs. 50,000 in installments right from birth till the time girl passes Class 12. The amount is linked to the Bhamashah Card ensuring that the money stays with the women of the house. 3.18 Lakh girls have got the first installment since 2016.
Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan
It’s surprising that in a state with only 1.1% surface water and where groundwater meets more than 90% of the demand, water conservation has never been a priority for the previous Congress governments.
Taking cue from Maharashtra’s Jal Yukta Shivar, Rajasthan government launched the Mukhya Mantri Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan which aims at preserving rain water and raising the ground water table in the rural areas by involving the people on ground. The execution of the program is done in a participatory manner right till the village community level. More than 3500 villages have been identified in the first phase and the government plans to make them water sufficient by recharging their ponds, lakes, step wells, etc.
In a unique move, the government has also crowd sourced funds for this noble initiative and it has successfully managed to raise more than 49 crores for the same. The government plans to cover 20,000 villages in the coming two years.
Apart from storing the rain water, afforestation is also an important aspect of this program. In the first phase, 26.5 lakh plantations have been done and 93000 water harvesting structures have been created thereby yielding results.
It is said that there is no greater charity than giving someone a glass of water. Maybe, Raje would be blessed by thousands to whom she is providing water through her efforts.
The Reform Queen
Vasundhara is probably the most ‘economically right’ leader in the BJP today. She started her tenure with big bang reforms by making changes in the Contract Labor Act, Factories Act and Apprenticeship Act thereby making it easy for companies to do business in the state.
The amendments make it easy for the employer to fire workers and even close down the operations if they employ up to 300 staffers without taking government approval. Likewise, the changes in Apprenticeship Act creates a conducive environment and makes it easy for industry to create jobs.
Success of these reforms can be gauged from the fact that many other states and even the Union government adopted some of these changes.
Rajasthan also became the first state in the country to pass the titling act which provides statutory backing to land records. Till now, the registration of property only identifies two parties as buyer and seller respectively but it doesn’t guarantee that seller is indeed the owner. The new act changes that and a landmark decision like this should have been celebrated across the country but unfortunately it was not. LiveMint did an excellent piece on the same.
Started few months back, Annapurna Rasoi aims at providing three time meal to economically weak people at nominal prices. Started on the lines of Amma canteens in Tamil Nadu, these mobile kitchens serve breakfast for Rs.5 while lunch & dinner at Rs.8. Targeted towards daily wage workers, students, auto drivers; the scheme is launched in 15 cities in Rajasthan and will be expanded in the coming months.
Amma canteens were a huge hit in Tamil Nadu and played a major role in the victory of late Jayalalitha. If the quality of food is maintained (there were reports of people being unhappy) and it is executed well in other parts, Raje sure can hope to reap benefits in 2018.
Apart from these, there are many other initiatives that she has taken to improve governance in the state. Right from connecting villages through roads under the ‘Gramin Gaurav Path’ program to ensuring that branded consumer products reach the villages at ‘Annapurna Bhandar’ centres, she is leaving no stone unturned to change rural Rajasthan. Crime rate in Rajasthan has seen a decline after many years and incidents of robbery and kidnappings have come down largely.
The present tenure of Raje has not seen any major controversy and her government has been more or less devoid of any corruption charges. Thankfully, the Gujjars are also silent this time and the opposition though has a young leader as its face, given lack of administrative experience, it is no guarantee that he can turn the tide in the favor of Congress.
The only thing she needs is better publicity & image management to curb the murmurs on social media and some on the ground also, that she has been nothing but average till now. Vasundhara has set the ball rolling with a slew of programs and reforms but it is imperative that the remaining part of the tenure sees effective execution of these schemes so that the benefits reach the people, and they acknowledge the efforts of the government.
If this happens, she is poised to rewrite the history.