Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed an all-women self-help group rally in Prayagraj. The Congress, led by General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, has based its entire campaign on women. The Samajwadi Party and the BSP are doing everything possible to impress women voters. The Jat-dominated RLD is not far behind, promising to reserve jobs for women.
In Uttar Pradesh, a state where caste and religion typically cloud all other considerations in polls, this season political parties are tripping over each other to rally women voters.
Data shows that in the last elections, women voters – or “aadhi abadi”, as the political parties refer to the demographics that make up 46.5% of voters in the state – have increased not only in number, but there has been a steady increase in the number of people who vote and those who end up on the winning side, making them an important target group for all political parties.
On January 8, when Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra declared the polls, he informed that the number of voters in Uttar Pradesh is now around 15 crore, of which women voters make up nearly 6.98 crore and men about 8 crore. He said that of the five states that went to the polls, Uttar Pradesh saw the maximum increase in the number of women voters – an addition of almost 52 lakh women voters since the last election. In 2017, out of a total of 14.16 voters, 6.46 crore were women and 7.7 crore men.
More people coming to vote
In 2017, 63.31% or 4.5 crore of female voters came to vote in the state compared to about 59% or 4.5 crore of male voters.
This number has continued to increase.
In the 2012 Assembly polls, when Uttar Pradesh had 12.74 crore voters – 7 crore men and 5.7 crore women – the percentage of votes among women was 60% ( 4.12 crores) compared to 58.68% for men.
This was even higher than in 2007, when the BSP formed the government. Of the 5 crores of women voters, barely 42% or 2.1 crores came to vote against 49.53% among men.
In 2017, when the BJP came to power, the state had 42 female legislators in the 403-member assembly. 482 women applied that year. In 2012, 35 women were elected to the Assembly from the 583 women who ran. In 2007, only 23 women deputies were elected out of 370 women running.
The ruling BJP is doing its best to ensure that women voters, who would have voted in large numbers for the party in previous elections, stay.
The party has commissioned Geeta Shakya, a member of Rajya Sabha and its leader mahila morcha, to carry out an online campaign focusing on ‘Kyon Uttar Pradesh ki mahilaen kehti hain ki Yogi sarkar jarori hai? (Why UP women say a Yogi government is needed)’. As part of the campaign, party leaders were invited to speak about the women-focused projects of state and central governments.
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Congress, arguably the weakest pole in this election, however, managed to draw attention to its all-women-based campaign, with its girls’ marathons that ended up in big draws. The party, which began with a promise to reserve 40% of ballots for women, announced 50 female candidates on Thursday as part of its first list. The party also released a special manifesto promising job reservations, free bus services, free electric scooters as well as smartphones for women.
“The political narrative is changing. Empowering women is no longer about free toilets or bottles, but about financial and social independence…,” said Congress leader Supriya Shrinate, who traveled with Priyanka as part of the “Ladki hoon, Lad sakti hoon”.
The Samajwadi party has also proposed a host of women-focused measures. In addition to talking about 1090, the women’s helpline launched by the party during its previous tenure, and other schemes such as the Samajwadi Pension for Women and Financial Aid for Sportswomen, the party coined the slogan “Uttar Pradesh ki nari, Bhajapa par paregi bhari”, to allege that women faced hardship under the BJP government.
The BSP, meanwhile, explained that it was the only party to have had a female CM in the past and was a strong supporter of the 33% reserve for women in the Lok Sabha and the State Assembly.
In its manifesto, SP ally RLD announced that government positions were reserved for women and promised that those with a history of crimes against women would be denied tickets.