iconimg Sunday, May 03, 2015

N Madhavan, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, March 01, 2013
It’s official. Women are the new vote bank, it seems. Finance minister P Chidambaram’s last budget before the general elections next year lined up a slew of measures to help women, showing that gender is increasingly becoming a factor in electoral politics. The minister’s 105-minute speech used the word ‘women’ in the plural 24 times and in the singular, four times. The word ‘gender’ occurred three times, ‘girl’ four times and ‘female’ once — leaving little to imagination on an emerging electoral priority of the UPA government as it bets on inclusive growth.

“Women belonging to the most vulnerable groups must be able to live with self-esteem and dignity,” he said, going on to put a number on the amount the government would spend on women — Rs. 97,000 crore.

He reeled off a series of measures and schemes to help women — covering everything from workplace safety to child welfare.

The most eye-catching among them was the proposal for a public sector bank for women to be run by women, with a startup capital of Rs. 1,000 crore. An equal amount was set apart for a fund to ensure the safety and empowerment of women — symbolically associated with the 23-year-old gang rape victim in Delhi whose plight led to angry street protests in the Capital in December 2012.