Naidu banking on women
Facing a united opposition and the anti-incumbency factor, the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is once again banking on women so as to win a third consecutive term in power.
Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, the self-proclaimed champion of women's empowerment, is making all out efforts to woo women, who slightly outnumber men voters in the state.
In recent years, Naidu played a key role in forming 700,000 women self-help groups known as DWCRA (Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas). These have a membership of 6.5 million. No other state in the country or any country can boast off such a large number of women self-help groups, claims Naidu.
Naidu, who had attributed his victory in the last elections to the strong support from women, is now banking on self-help groups to help him retain power.
With their small savings and some help from the government these groups are engaged in manufacturing of household items. Though the countrywide scheme was launched in early 1990s, it was Naidu who made it a big movement in the state.
These groups were further strengthened when he ensured their participation in community development works, literacy drive, health, sanitation and even to create awareness about AIDS.
The women were given priority in allotment of cooking gas connections under "Deepam" scheme, house sites and other benefits. The success stories of these groups impressed World Bank officials.
Will Naidu retain power with the help of these self-help groups?
The opinion is divided even among the groups. Not all groups have received the government assistance in the form of revolving fund and they feel that the basic issues of water and electricity were more important.
Naidu, however, is confident that the women folk would wholeheartedly support him. At every election meetings, he highlights the efforts made by his government for women's empowerment, the full support he was extending to reservation in parliament and state legislatures. At these meetings, the women outnumber men.
Andhra Pradesh has 25.74 million women voters, 450,000 more than men. About 900,000 women voters have increased since the last elections in 1999.
In a bid to mobilize more support from women, Naidu's party has fielded 50 women candidates. In 1999 he fielded 37 candidates, 18 of who were elected.
"No other party has fielded so many women candidates. We had also included five women in the ministry," he keeps saying.