VOTES ON WHEELS
After Nitish’s stellar success in Bihar, Mayawati and Arjun Munda hope free bicycles win them new converts
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.
STUDENTS IN PATNAWITH BICYCLES GIVEN BYTHE BIHAR GOVERNMENT