Thursday, November 22, 2012

Congress gives Modi home scare

Ahmedabad, Aug. 22: Few things sell like a dream home. But Narendra Modi is getting nightmares.
In what looks like a well-thought-out poll promise just months ahead of elections, the Gujarat Congress has offered to build affordable houses for homeless women in eight cities and 159 towns.
The party said it would build 15 lakh such homes over the next five years for people from lower and lower-middle income groups if voted back to power in the state.
The offer has unsettled Modi, especially after the rush at 550 camps across the state where women have been queuing up over the past two days to collect application forms.
The chief minister is understandably nervous. If home is where the heart is, the BJP leader realises that the Congress's offer has the potential to tweak the saying to home is where the vote is.
So although his party dismissed the Congress's “Ghar nu Ghar” scheme as “fraudulent” and a “conspiracy to mislead women voters”, the worried government came out with a similar sop. It promised to build 2.5 lakh houses for the urban poor if it won the December elections, crucial to Modi's national ambitions.
The state government even reactivated the defunct Gujarat Housing Board, which didn't launch a single scheme for the urban poor in the last decade.
Tit-for-tat? But the home theme wasn't ready yet to exit this election home stretch.
Today, the Congress announced that 15 lakh rural homeless women would get a 100-yard plot free and promised easy access to loans.
The scheme, state unit chief Arjun Modhwadia said, “will be for those other than BPL families... farm labourers, artisans and landless people”.
The Congress has so far distributed 28 lakh “dream home” forms and believes that it has already locked in the votes of women, considered to be supporters of Modi.
If the gambit works in the urban areas, traditionally a BJP stronghold, it could tilt the balance in favour of the Congress which has been out of power in the state for nearly two decades.
A worried Modi said the Congress was “cheating women”, though state BJP president R.C. Faldu played down the possible effect of the scheme.
“The Congress is in the habit of cheating people,” Faldu said. “The scheme is a gimmick. So we are not worried at all. We know Modi is extremely popular among women.”
Senior Congress leader and former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela said the scheme was the party's “moral commitment”.
“The kind of response we have got from women, despite the BJP circulating pamphlets ridiculing the scheme as a fraud, should open their eyes,” Vaghela said.
“We need just 50 lakh votes to defeat Modi,” added senior Congress leader Narhari Amin. “With this scheme we have ensured that we will increase our vote share substantially.”
Apart from the BJP's fear that the dream-home scheme would see voters switch loyalties, the rush to pick up forms has also put a question mark on Modi's claim of good governance and development -- that so many people don't own houses in the prosperous and “vibrant” state.
The 2011 census, too, had revealed that more than one in every four person in the state still lived in kuchcha houses and 16 lakh middle-class residents did not have a home they could call their own.