Women's power surges in political landscape - Hindustan Times
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Women's power surges in political landscape

Dec 16, 2023 10:00 PM IST

The real testimony to women’s political rights will come when they hold significant positions of power across the political spectrum

It is being seen as a significant step forward for women in politics that they are emerging as a crucial voting bloc in elections, and the recent assembly elections proved this in spades. More women are voting and have a greater deciding factor on which political party succeeds. They are playing roles in booth management, canvassing and using community initiatives to spread awareness about the need to vote wisely and whom to reward for which scheme.

Women display their voter's identity card sitting in the back of a truck in Chachiyawas, near Ajmer, India, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023. (AP) PREMIUM
Women display their voter's identity card sitting in the back of a truck in Chachiyawas, near Ajmer, India, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023. (AP)

In Madhya Pradesh, which saw a stunning BJP victory despite all predictions of how anti-incumbency would hobble the state government, women who comprise 48.20% of the 53.9 million voters, led the charge — this trend started in 2013 when 70.1% of women voted, up to this year when it went up to 76.0%. In Rajasthan, women turned up in higher numbers than men after achieving the same feat in the 2013 and 2018 elections. In the 1993 Rajasthan polls, the gender gap in turnout (in favour of men) was over eight per cent.

Political parties, especially the BJP, have cannily understood what matters to women and have come up with a bouquet of promises like providing safe tap water, functioning toilets, housing, free transport, cash transfers, and customised health and education schemes. There is competitive bidding to hand out welfare schemes to women in elections now. The victory of the BJP in MP is attributed to the Ladli Behna scheme, and other initiatives like Ladli Lakshmi, Gaon Ki Beti, and Kanya Vivah. In Chhattisgarh, the new government comes in with the promise of 12,000 in annual assistance to married women. The Mukhyamantri Ladli Behna Yojana in MP promised 1,000 per month to all eligible women between 21 and 60. The amount is directly deposited into their Aadhaar-linked bank accounts, subject to certain exclusion criteria. The scheme was an instant hit, and within a few months, over 13 million women had joined up in the first tranche of the programme which began in June 2023. Women were drafted in to help manage massive camps across the state to identify and enrol eligible beneficiaries.

The easy and accessible process helped in pushing awareness about the scheme and drew a favourable response, which had a domino effect among women. It was found that women beneficiaries of Ladli Lakshmi and Ladli Behna Yojana generally favoured the BJP, with 49% and 48% respectively supporting the party and women not benefiting from these schemes tended to prefer the Congress, according to researchers at Lokniti-CSDS. Sunita Bai, a beneficiary of Ladli Behna Yojana from Budhni town in MP, who works as a daily wager, told researchers that the monthly sum of 1,250 she receives under the scheme has eased both her financial stress and boosted her standing within the family.

But the real victory for women will come when they move from the sidelines to the centre of political decision-making. The BJP, which has women’s support in abundance, does not have one woman CM in any state it governs. And other political parties are no better. The women’s reservation Bill, again, a calling card for the BJP, is yet to be realised.

India’s robust Panchayati Raj institutions have created much greater awareness among women on the need to exercise their vote. It has also awakened their aspirations to gain political power and not just swing the vote in elections. Women may get reservations at the panchayat level, but progress beyond that has proved difficult, which can be attributed to the traditional barriers to their entry into higher politics. The real testimony to women’s political rights will come when they hold significant positions of power across the political spectrum. Maybe 2024 will prove a turning point for women getting more tickets than they have so far.

The views expressed are personal

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