Many still believe that the UPA regime’s flagship rural job scheme, the ‘Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS)’, silently did wonders for the Congress in 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Will it be a game-changer in the 2014 polls also? There is no straight ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ for an answer, as this correspondent discovered during a tour of some of the districts in Tamil Nadu where MGNREGS has increased incomes of rural households.
Lakshmi of Surapattu village in Villupuram district, Punithaeswari of Bouthiramanickam village in Tiruvarur district and Magudeeswari of Muthunaickenpatti near Oddanchatram in Dindigul— from three different rural pockets of the State— have hardly anything in common.
But perhaps one thing that bonds these women, in the 25- 40 years age-group, vis-à-vis sarkaari intervention in poverty alleviation, is that they all proudly claim that they “participate meaningfully in the implementation of MGNREGS”. Will that straight translate into dividends in the coming election? They are hardly sure. Those courageous women were nonetheless affirmative about one thing: rural voters would take the Centre’s rural job scheme as one of the factors, but only that much. People’s traditional party preferences are another factor when they go to the polling booths on April 24.
Thus, opinion is divided in rural parts of the State on how much this scheme would impact voting behaviour. Some of the villagers spoken to – like A. Siva, a former Chairman of Anniyur primary agricultural cooperative society in Villupuram district and P.R. Pandian of the CPI-affiliated ‘Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam’ in Kottur block in Tiruvarur district are categorical that MGNREGS would have no impact on the polls. The supervening issue of “corruption” against the Congress will be a strong determinant of voter preferences in the coming polls, they feel.
However, there are other voices too. D. Murugan of Ariyalur Thirukkai and K. Malayathipathi of Surapattu, both in Villupuram district, said, “There may not be any visible impact now.” But any future government in Delhi trying to tamper with MGNREGS, will have to face disastrous consequences, they warned. This seems like a back-handed compliment to the Congress, but will its campaigners pick up the cue? Perhaps, Union Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram already did it partly, expressing worries that the job scheme could be withdrawn if the BJP was to form the next Government in Delhi. The BJP denies it, but irrespective of outcomes, MGNREGS is already part of poll discourse.