Congress waits to reap Bhagidari harvest

NEW DELHI NOV.13. When launched in January 2000 by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, it was termed an exercise in futility. Members of her Cabinet privately termed it a misadventure. And Congress MLAs were upset at their rights being infringed upon. The Opposition BJP termed it as misuse of official machinery. But the much-maligned Bhagidari Scheme, promoting government-citizen partnership, could well prove to be the trump card for the Congress in the Delhi Assembly elections on December 1.

From a humble beginning of 20 resident welfare associations, the support base for the scheme has risen to 1,300 RWAs, Market Traders Associations, Industrial Associations and Rural Groups. This could bring a large chunk of the city's elite and middle class votes into the Congress kitty.

Having received national and international accolades, Bhagidari has made citizens feel part of the administration and enabled the Congress Government to make inroads into areas where the BJP had a strong presence - that is the middle class and the trading community. And this is expected to pay dividends during the Assembly polls as a majority of these associations are likely to support continuity and back the Sheila Dikshit Government in its commitment to empower the citizens.

Not used to sharing power, political leaders and MLAs had at one point accused the Chief Minister of trying to patronise saffron organisations in the shape of Bhagidari. Many party leaders, during the early days of Bhagidari, had stated that it would benefit the BJP as a majority of people associated with these associations were BJP-oriented or were its dedicated cadres.

But all that has changed over the years. The acceptability of the Bhagidari Scheme has grown manifold and from a small beginning it has virtually grown into a movement. And this includes not only resident associations but also market associations and rural groups who have been involved in the endeavour.

It was for the first time that citizens were brought face to face with officials and asked to spell out their problems. Nodal officers were appointed for each department to deal with the RWAs and, after initial resistance, the bureaucracy fell in line.

Now the Congress is just waiting to reap the benefits in the elections. The Chief Minister, who has turned the tide in favour of her party, said the growing support for Bhagidari was a good sign. In fact, through RWAs, the party might be able to make a dent in the traditional BJP vote bank in the cooperative group housing societies, residential colonies and the trading community.

Citizens, including those in-charge of the MTAs, have had a first-hand feel of the development-oriented agenda under the scheme. It is for the first time that they found themselves being empowered to take care of developmental projects in their area, monitor the work by various agencies and give directions for improvement. The implementation of water harvesting project is an example of this success story.

Remarked D. M. Narang of the New Rajinder Nagar Residents Welfare Association: "It will definitely work positively for the Congress. The scheme has opened a direct dialogue between the NGOs, RWAs and the bureaucracy. Now we can go directly to officials, hold proper meetings and ensure action by the lower staff as minutes of the meeting are being recorded."

Similarly, V.K. Keshav, president of Vikas Vihar Resident Welare Association, said Bhagidari would certainly make an impact and except for the slight shortage of water, everything has gone well for the ruling party.