News Analysis | Maharashtra Budget: Pre-poll strategic game of social engineering

News Analysis | Maharashtra Budget: Pre-poll strategic game of social engineering


Maharashtra Finance Minister Ajit Pawar and Minister of State Deepak Kesarkar display the 2024-25 budget bags on the second day of the monsoon assembly session, at the Vidhan Bhavan in Mumbai.

Maharashtra Finance Minister Ajit Pawar and Minister of State Deepak Kesarkar showing the budget bag for 2024-25 on the second day of the monsoon assembly session, at Vidhan Bhavan in Mumbai. | Photo Credit: ANI

The budget presented by Maharashtra's Mahayuti government last week, ahead of the upcoming assembly elections, reflects efforts by the outgoing government to balance, or at least offer a semblance of, social engineering with populist schemes.

With an allocation of Rs 6,12,293 crore for the current fiscal year, the Budget underlines the tripartite government's intention to strengthen its support base among various sections.

A key aspect is the grant of Rs 20,000 for each Dindi, a religious procession of Lord Vitthal to Pandharpur on every Ashadhi Ekadashi, as a mark of gratitude to the Warkari community, which has significant influence in rural Maharashtra, and is a deliberate move to garner their support.

Targeting 'silent' voters

The launch of Mukhyamantri Majhi Ladki Behen, modelled on the popular Ladli Behna Yojana of neighbouring BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, aims to support women by providing a monthly allowance of ₹1,500 to eligible women aged between 21 and 60. It also announced the Mukhyamantri Annapurna Yojana to provide three free LPG cylinders a year to a family of five. It is seen as a direct appeal to women voters, especially in rural and semi-urban areas, who are considered the 'silent' but decisive voters.

The budget also promises several populist measures, including waiver of power bill dues for 44 lakh farmers, Rs 15 per litre subsidy to dairy farmers, village tithe godowns (warehouses in every village) to facilitate storage of farm produce and subsidy to onion farmers.

These measures have been taken to address the grievances of the farming community, which has expressed discontent with the government's policies. The allocation shows an attempt to win back the support of the farming sector, which is an important voter group in Maharashtra.

Earlier this year, Finance Minister Ajit Pawar had presented a nearly similar vote-on-account budget with several 'bumper schemes' ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. Despite these efforts, the ruling coalition managed only 17 of the 48 seats while the Maha Vikas Aghadi, comprising the Congress, Shiv Sena (UBT) and NCP (SP), won 30 seats. Ahead of the Assembly elections, the Mahayuti has made every effort to woo key sections of the population – farmers, women, youth, devotees and marginalised groups – through budgetary allocations with the aim of building a broad social coalition.

However, opposition leaders criticised the budget, calling it 'political hypnosis' and a 'barrage of assurances' designed only to influence voters ahead of the elections.

In addition to these schemes, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, a day after the budget, announced the Mukhyamantri Teerth Darshan Yojana, a new pilgrimage scheme for senior citizens of all religions.

Ambiguity over funds

Though the budget is full of promises, it lacks a concrete implementation strategy and fiscal prudence as there is no clarity on how to fund the schemes. This ambiguity raises concerns about the viability and sustainability of the promises.

It remains to be seen whether this strategic social engineering will be able to cover up the issue of division in the Shiv Sena and the NCP as well as the ongoing rift between the Maratha and OBC communities and translate into electoral gains for the ruling alliance.


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