VOTES ON WHEELS

Af­ter Ni­tish’s stel­lar suc­cess in Bi­har, Mayawati and Ar­jun Munda hope free bi­cy­cles win them new con­verts

India Today - - NA TION - byamitabh­sri­vas­tava

Ut­tar Pradesh Chief Min­is­ter Mayawati may de­spise every­thing about the Sa­ma­jwadi Party, but not its elec­tion sym­bol, the bi­cy­cle. Hav­ing dis­trib­uted over 10 lakh bi­cy­cles among school girls since 2008, the Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party supremo is us­ing arch ri­val Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav’s elec­tion ve­hi­cle to reach out to new groups, es­pe­cially with his for­tunes re­viv­ing in the wake of son Akhilesh’s Kranti Rath Ya­tra. With her eyes set on the Assem­bly elec­tions early next year, the Mayawati govern­ment in­cluded Mus­lim girls study­ing in 1,571 madrasas in the list of ben­e­fi­cia­ries en­ti­tled to a bi­cy­cle and cash as­sis­tance in July.

Mayawati’s govern­ment is not the first to use the hum­ble bi­cy­cle to break new po­lit­i­cal ground. Be­fore her, Bi­har Chief Min­is­ter Ni­tish Ku­mar de­ployed the Mukhya­mantri Balika Cy­cle Yo­jana to win votes. In March-april 2004, then Madhya Pradesh chief min­is­ter Bab­u­lal Gaur started cy­cle dis­tri­bu­tion among sec­ondary school girls from Sched­uled Caste ( SC), Sched­uled Tribe ( ST) and Be­low Poverty Line sec­tions. On re­plac­ing Gaur in Novem­ber 2005, Shivraj Singh Chouhan ex­panded the am­bit of the scheme by gift­ing all Class IX girl stu­dents with a bi­cy­cle. So far, more than 8.54 lakh girls have been given cy­cles in Madhya Pradesh.

In Au­gust 2007, Ch­hat­tis­garh Chief Min­is­ter Ra­man Singh also started pro­vid­ing bi­cy­cles to girl stu­dents—a move that yielded div­i­dends in the 2008 Assem­bly elec­tions. In March this year, Ra­jasthan Chief Min­is­ter Ashok Gehlot also promised to dis­trib­ute over 1.4 lakh cy­cles to Class IX and Class X girls. This is a change of heart be­cause Gehlot has long been cold to cy­cle dis­tri­bu­tion schemes ini­ti­ated dur­ing the Va­sund­hara Raje-led BJP govern­ment.

The Bi­har govern­ment has dis­trib­uted 27 lakh bi­cy­cles since 2005, says P.K. Shahi, HRD min­is­ter. This has led to the cre­ation of a new caste-neu­tral po­lit­i­cal con­stituency of women.

What works for Ni­tish can be good for Ar­jun Munda too. The Jhark­hand govern­ment is likely to spend Rs 53 crore on over two lakh cy­cles for stu­dents, labour­ers and health work­ers. Munda hopes the largesse eases the ride for the BJP- led coali­tion in the state.

KR­ISHNA MU­RARI KIS­HAN

STU­DENTS IN PATNAWITH BI­CY­CLES GIVEN BYTHE BI­HAR GOVERN­MENT

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