Seething in anger and frustration over the Samajwadi Party's debacle in the Lok Sabha election, UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has decided to drop his pet scheme — free laptops. Top officials said that the chief minister has realised that the scheme, which was meant to lure young beneficiaries into voting for the Samajwadi Party, rebounded and actually blighted the party's electoral prospects.
"We did not get any benefit after the free laptop scheme in the election. So, it is being stopped now," Akhilesh's confidant and mining minister Gayatri Prajapati announced publicly in Amethi on Monday. He said a formal order would be issued soon.
About 23 lakh laptops have been distributed till now, costing the state exchequer about Rs 3,450 crore at Rs 15,000 a piece.
"The youngsters who got the laptops did not help us while those denied opposed the party with a vengeance," said a senior SP leader. "This generated a lot of negative publicity during the elections."
Officials supervising the scheme admit that most beneficiaries sold the laptops they got free at throwaway prices. "First of all, there is not enough power supply in the rural areas to charge the laptop battery. Besides, the laptop was largely worthless without internet connectivity," an official explained.
It was indeed embarrassing for the state to see TV visuals of the laptops with a prominent sticker featuring Akhilesh and his father SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav on the cover, being used by BJP workers in Narendra Modi's rallies, and later at BJP booths during the election.
The SP had promised before the 2012 Assembly election that it would give free laptops to all students passing class 12. The scheme started amid fanfare after the SP rode to power in UP. It got prominent mention in all of Akhilesh's speeches even during the 2014 parliamentary election campaign. Akhilesh touted the laptop as a "miracle" which would "open up the world" for them.
However, the scheme ran into hurdles as the government soon realised it was virtually impossible to distribute free laptops to over 23 lakh students every year. Besides, a spat between the government and the company supplying the laptops added to confusion and delays.
While 15 lakh pieces were distributed in the first year (2011-12), the figure dropped to about eight lakh the next year. There are still about 20 lakh eligible students from the 2013-14 batch waiting for their "window to the world".
Opposition parties are baying for Akhilesh over the scheme. "This is a complete waste of public money," said the state's BJP chief LK Bajpayee. "These funds should have been used for development works," he added.
"The CM's dream scheme has proved to be a disaster and there is no way the government can continue with it," a senior official said.