New Delhi, Apr 14 (PTI) The Union government and the ruling BJP today embarked on a massive rural outreach, especially towards Dalits and tribals, with the launch of ‘gram swaraj abhiyan’, which aims to cover thousands of villages with seven key welfare schemes of the Modi dispensation.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Bijapur, a tribal district in Chhattisgarh, to launch several government projects, including a wellness centre under the ambitious health insurance scheme ‘Ayushmaan Bharat’. There, he invoked his humble origins while paying tribute to Bhimrao Ambedkar on his 127th birth anniversary.

BJP president Amit Shah paid tributes to the Dalit icon at the party’s headquarters while hundreds of its MPs, including Union ministers, fanned out across India to join people as part of the outreach programme.

Union ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and Radha Mohan Singh were in Patna and Motihari. Prasad met women rural entrepreneurs from the two backward communities, while Singh joined them in listening to Modi’s speech.

Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan was in a Telangana region to launch the ‘Ujjwala’ scheme.

The ‘gram swaraj ahiyan’, which will continue till May 5, is being seen as a part of the BJP’s massive outreach to the rural poor, especially Dalits, as it gears up for a string of assembly elections leading to the Lok Sabha polls due by next year.

The campaign comes against the backdrop of opposition parties targeting the Modi government over its alleged anti-Dalit policies.

Modi has asked BJP MPs, including Union ministers, to ensure everyone in villages, where the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes constitute more than 50 per cent of the population, is covered under the schemes, which aims to provide LPG connections, vaccination for children, ‘Jan Dhan’ bank accounts and electricity for households.

Official sources said there are 20,844 such villages across India but the exercise will not cover West Bengal and Karnataka, where the Model Code of Conduct is in force in view of panchayat and assembly polls in the two states.

BJP MPs have been asked to spend at least a night in one such village, while Union ministers will spend two nights in different parts of the country during the exercise.

They will highlight the government’s works for the poor and farmers.

In an address to party MPs, the prime minister had spelled out several programmes with April 18 being observed as ‘Swachh Bharat’ festival.

April 20, 24 and 28 will be observed as ‘Ujjwala Diwas’, ‘Panchayati Raj Diwas’ and ‘Gram Shakti Diwas’ respectively to highlight various government schemes, he said.

He said he will interact with BJP leaders on April 22 via a video link.

April 30, May 2 and May 5 will be dedicated to highlighting various schemes aimed at benefiting farmers and the poor.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.