Lamp Lighting and Flag Planting as Modi Woos Indian Voters

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party will reach out to the 220 million Indians it says directly benefited from his policies, as it seeks to counter growing disenchantment just weeks before elections are due.

The Bharatiya Janata Party will begin its outreach program Feb. 26, when leaders and workers will fan across the country to visit potential voters: from women who receive government-subsidized cooking gas to villagers who availed small, cheap loans under an official credit program. BJP members plan to light lamps in the beneficiaries’ homes and neighborhoods and educate them about the government’s efforts under the awareness program called Kamal Jyoti, or Light of the Lotus, referring to the BJP’s symbol.

Lamp Lighting and Flag Planting as Modi Woos Indian Voters

“We have prepared a database of people who have availed these programs,” said Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a federal minister who’s helping draft the BJP’s manifesto. “We will tell them how their lives have changed” in the five years under Modi’s administration, he said.

India’s government is under pressure to woo back voters after it lost three major provincial elections amid anger about falling rural wages. However, it’s unclear if outreach programs help much: surveys show that people were already aware of Modi’s policies when they voted in November and December, yet most seats were won by opposition parties.

Lamp Lighting and Flag Planting as Modi Woos Indian Voters

“Modi this time will campaign on what he has accomplished through various flagship programs,” said Mahesh Rangarajan, a professor at Ashoka University. “The BJP will say -- give us five more years to complete our unfinished tasks -- and in economic terms the unfinished task will be carefully targeted delivery of welfare schemes.”

The BJP’s main rival, the Congress party, has also pledged handouts including a minimum income guarantee program if it is voted to power. It will focus on the “have-nots” such as landless laborers, who have been left behind by Modi’s policies, said Congress lawmaker Rajeev Gowda.

The BJP has already planted its flags outside homes of some beneficiaries, who have no direct affiliation to the party but availed of government programs, the Pune Mirror reported Feb. 18. Photos show the party’s saffron and green banner, with a large white lotus, hanging outside unpainted brick tenements.

Leaders from the BJP told the newspaper that they had taken permission from residents before putting up the flags. The Congress party’s representative in the city has criticized the move and said the BJP is taking credit for projects funded by taxpayer money.

Awareness programs don’t necessarily bring a guarantee of success for the BJP as Indian voters often punish incumbents despite crediting them for their work, Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies that carried out the surveys, wrote in a Mint newspaper column soon after the provincial elections.

“Whether such programs work in terms of political returns is not easy to say,” said Ashoka University’s Rangarajan.

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