A few months ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarked on a mission to change the regressive mindset of India in a bid to end discrimination against girl child through his ambitious “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” project.
This was soon followed by a series of “symbolisms” during the Republic Day celebrations which witnessed several firsts for women, right from a woman (first time ever) being a guard honor to US President, to an all women contingent during the Republic Day parade.
Why has PM Modi suddenly taken up this project of women empowerment & girl child education? Moreover, the timing (just before Obama’s visit) would raise questions about the intention behind such a project. Does he want to portray himself as “pro-feminine” to Obama? Is he genuinely interested in this issue or is he doing it for publicity? These questions would naturally crop up since he is a leader of a conservative right wing party.
I could not brush aside these questions because he is now the leader of the world’s biggest democracy, and hence I began my quest to research Modi’s history to gauge his genuinity & commitment level on the issue of girl child education. The findings have been startling & inspirational indeed!!
It dates back to 2001 when Narendra Modi, who was the General Secretary of BJP and was interested in contributing towards the cause of girl education. Soon after he become the CM of Gujarat in the late 2001, he hit upon the idea of putting up all his gifts & awards for auction so that the money could be used for a fund for the same. In November 2001, his plan witnessed overwhelming response, which led to the setting up of “Kanya Kelavani Nidhi” fund. Since then, every year without fail, Modi has been preserving all forms of gifts and at the end of the year, promptly putting them up for auction and donating that money for girl child education.
Every year, as the number of gifts increased and Modi’s popularity soared, the auctions became more successful. By 2008, he was receiving more than thousand gifts every year, which were deposited into the state treasury, auctioned by the end of each year, and the amount sent to the fund to promote girls’ education.
In 2009, it crossed the Rs 20 crore mark. Modi, at his personal capacity was providing educational aid to 33,410 girls.
Apart from auction of gifts to raise funds, there was another innovative method through which Modi tried to capitalize his popularity. Never before had anybody heard of a politician charging money for guest appearances!! Modi had literally been cashing on his celebrity status through the concept of “celebrity appearance fee”, which in turn was used for the cause of girl education. In 2010, it was reported that he had collected around Rs 23 crore through this method for his fund.
As always, 2010 also got good response, with more than 1000 gifts auctioned to raise funds for girls education.
In 2011, once again after promptly auctioning his gifts for the cause of girl education, even his political rivals began to take notice. Surprisingly, even the leftists (who were his staunch critics) were full of praises for his idea & perseverance for such a great cause and went on to call it a role model, recommending it to CMs of other states.
In 2011, Sachin Tendulkar had gifted his 2003 World Cup jersey to Modi. Yes, Modi auctioned it at the end of the year to raise fund for girls education. The following news snippet gives an idea of the kind of gifts which were received & auctioned in 2011 (including Tendulkar’s jersey)
If the video does not play due to error, watch it directly on YouTube here:
2012 was no exception, witnessing overwhelming response for the auction of his gifts and praises from social activists.
In 2013 as well, more than 1000 gifts were auctioned in a 3 day exhibition and the money donated for the cause of girls education.
In 2014, after winning the General Elections and before leaving Gujarat (to take up the post of PM in Delhi), Modi’s bid a farewell to Gujarat Govt with a parting gift which brought them to tears. He donated Rs 21 lakh from his personal savings to create a new fund for educating daughters of drivers and peons working with the Gujarat Govt.
Although this was a personal initiative of Modi, which was helping around 40,000 girl students, it had a tremendous impact in terms of inspiring his staff & the state Govt which took the issue of girls education aggressively, as a result of which, Gujarat became one of the top states in terms of growth in female literacy rate between 2001 & 2011, as per census 2011 data.
Another aspect of women empowerment was discussed few weeks ago in this study:
Coming back to the question “Is Modi genuinely interested in this issue or is it a publicity stunt?”, the details mentioned in this article about Modi’s own initiatives (at his personal capacity) in this matter over the last 14 years might be useful to answer that question. Considering his history & track record in this issue of women empowerment, it looks like “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” at national level is a natural progression from his efforts in Gujarat to India.
( Guruprasad GP is a Chief Engineer & Technology Mentor by profession )