By Rajan Alexander
In 1994, Chandra Babu Naidu of the Telegu Desam was quick to grasp the huge potential of SHGs to swing tightly fought electoral contests. He then supported the anti-arrack (local liquor) agitation that was spearheaded by Self-Help Group (SHG)s and rode the accompanying wave that catapulted him as Chief Minister of the state for two terms. When he betrayed SHGs by removing prohibition and encouraging for-profit micro-finance agencies like SKS; SHARE; BASIX, SPANDANA etc who exploited the poor; SHGs turned against Naidu, one of the major reasons why he was booted out of office unceremoniously.
That’s the power of SHGs. From then on, SHGs had been increasingly targeted as a vote bank in many parts of the country. However, they rarely behave as a single vote bank as these are basically disparate groups, showing large variations in their demographic and socio-economic profiles, particularly caste electoral behaviour.
At least 1/6th voters in Tamil Nadu are members of Self-Help Groups (SHGs). There are an estimated 500,000 to 800,000 SHGs within the state with each unit having a membership of 20. Collectively, they comprise half of Tamil Nadu’s roughly 30-40 million of the state’s total electorate. It is not merely the strength of the membership alone that makes SHGs a significant constituency which no politician can ignore. Research studies indicate that each SHG member could influence the voting pattern of at least 3 other non-SHG members.
Little wonder that the two main alliances in the state are bending backwards to woo SHGs. The DMK alliance promised each member of a SHG Rs 5,000-10,000 as a grant. Its rival, the AIADMK promised Rs 1 million to each SHG, three fourth as loans at soft interest rates and the remainder as a subsidy.
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