As housing turn vote catcher, Cong talks sample flat, BJP dangles downpayment



In poll-bound Gujarat, the latest slugfest between the Congress and the BJP is over who can do better in building houses for the new influencers in the state’s politics — people in the low income groups riding on the back of rapid urbanisation.

Modi calls them the “neo middle class” who make his focus group in this election. Congress accuses the Saffron leader is wooing them too late in the day.

Be that as it may, housing as a poll promise resonates well with voters of Gujarat, a state where nearly half of the population leaves in urban areas.

“Our sample flats will be ready soon,” said state Congress president Arjun Modvadia, in a comment that almost sounded like a real estate developer advertising its newest project.

In September, the Congress hit a master stroke, announcing what one can call a pre-launch offer for its grand new project.

It unveiled a scheme under which forms were distributed, seeking registration from women in urban areas who wanted to avail of either interest-free or highly-subsidised loans for low-cost houses.

The response – the Congress claims 7 million women filled the forms — rattled the Modi government, forcing a revamp of the state housing board that hasn’t built any housing unit in the past 10 years.It made a special non-budgetary allocation of Rs 1,600 crore, which was disbursed into bank accounts of 4.75 lakh BPL families identified by district-level authorities. Each of these families received Rs 21,000 as a first installment of government subsidy to build house in rural areas. The total assistance amounted to Rs 45,000 for each beneficiary.

On Monday, Modi included an ambitious plan in the BJP manifesto to build 5 million houses over the next five years. The BJP said, if elected back to power, its government would spend Rs 33,000 crore on low-cost housing and Modi would be the CEO of that project because of his execution credentials.

Congress has called the BJP plank a “hogwash.” The BJP says the Congress offer will never have any appeal because they are not going to win the elections.

One thing is clear. In the aftermath of such hype, whoever comes to power, the next government will have to take up housing in a big way. And that’s good for the builder community in the state. They too are getting a bit desperate as the current economic slump gets from bad to worse.

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