Power became a powerful tool for BJP in UP, Goa, Punjab,Uttrakhand
A meme circulated on WhatsApp during campaigning for the recent Assembly elections showed Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi trying to duck electricity cables on stage. In the same picture, Uttar Pradesh (UP) Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav seemed unperturbed. The caption said Akhilesh knew there was no electricity running in the cables.
The picture, passed around by officials in Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s office, became a metaphor for the high-pitched election campaign in UP. Electricity for all has never been as strong a political plank as this time, though infrastructure, or the lack of it, has been a poll issue for almost two decades now. Executives in public sector power undertakings and ground-level workers, the Grameen Vidyutikaran Abhiyantas (GVAs), told Business Standard the brief from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government at the Centre was clear: Electrification and energisation (connected households) should be carried out on a war footing.
The issue took on communal tones when Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an election speech at Fathepur said, “If you provide uninterrupted power supply for Eid, then you should also do it for Holi.” Though the charge was later refuted by the Samajwadi Party, it was a reflection of the BJP’s attempt to make electricity a central theme. It turned out to be one of the issues that worked for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, said the chairman of a public sector power undertaking on condition of anonymity.
Power is the most happening industry for the National Democratic Alliance and with the BJP victory in UP, it has made Goyal a star among Union ministers. Not only was Modi’s Varanasi constituency the fulcrum of Goyal’s electricity-centric campaign, the Centre often engaged in public spats with the UP government over electrification. “There were three levels of monitoring—the PSU brass themselves, the Union power ministry, and the Prime Minister’s Office,” said the PSU chairman. Though work on rural electrification the under Rajiv Gandhi Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) was started by the United Progressive Alliance, rechristening of the scheme as Deendayal Upadhyay Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (DDUGJY) and grandfathering works under the earlier scheme led to better implementation of the power-for-all programme. According to the GARV portal maintained by Rural Electrification Corporation, 96 per cent of the 1,529 unelectrified villages in UP in April 2015 have now been electrified. The national average is 68 per cent. The impact rate of the programme in the state is 34 per cent against the national average of 27 per cent.
When it comes to Varanasi, officials pointed out that PSUs had to be extra careful in Modi’s constituency. “The monitoring was more intense and we had to be cautious about accidents,” said an official. Earlier too, in Raebareli and Amethi, constituencies represented by the Gandhi family, works have been carried out with more vigour than in other areas. “The difference is that implementation under the National Democratic Alliance is faster,” the official said.
A GVA working in the Agra region said sometimes the state government refused to cooperate for the DDUGJY, taking the plea that it had its hands full with the RGGVY. GVAs have been appointed by REC, a central government undertaking, to monitor the rural electrification programme.
While the DDUGJY is monitored and partially funded by REC, the Integrated Power Development Scheme is spearheaded by Power Grid Corporation. The Centre provides financial assistance for capital expenditure to improve the transmission and distribution network. End-to-end metering is also done. The aims are to provide power supply round the clock in urban areas, grid connectivity to rural areas, and to reduce transmission and commercial losses. For Varanasi alone, around Rs 532 crore has been provided under the IPDS, of which Rs 432 crore is for the Old Kashi area where underground cables are being laid. With 40 per cent of the work done, the project is expected to be completed by December 2017. PowerGrid has also taken up three districts for rural electrification.
During an election campaign in Bihar nearly two decades ago Lalu Prasad had said roads in the state would become as smooth as a Bollywood actress’ cheeks. Since then, focussed infrastructure themes have become a rallying point for political parties. With the BJP now in power both at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh, Goyal will have no one to blame if the state continues to linger at the country’s second lowest power penetration of 23.8 per cent.