Dr. Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao
Congress in its crisis time is forced to move away from its traditional way of campaigning in caste, religion angles. For its survival it is desperately trying to build a new vote bank and after careful consideration the party think tanks has chosen the path of wooing the women. This is apparently initiated by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in UP and now became the main plank of campaign in other states that goes to polls in 2022.
Priyanka Vadra who took charge of Uttar Pradesh affairs apparently got the feedback on the whispers the rural women folk are making regarding her similarity in appearance to that of her grandmother Indira Gandhi. Since then she started imitating Indira Gandhi in her style of walk, speech and her attire, sari, though little uncomfortable. More Sonia met the women more she felt her chance to woo them towards her party. Without even discussing the matter in the party forum and not consulting her family Priyanka in a spur of moment announced the 40% of Congress ticket to women in UP. This had desired effect as women started to throng to Priyanka’s meeting and this lead to the promise of 40% jobs for women in government if Congress is voted to power.
Having raised the hope of place in politics for women Priyanka is aggressively reaching out to women through the party’s Shakti Samvaad. Her appeal to women not to vote on the basis of caste and religion and make the elected representatives accountable and criticizing the women centric welfare measures implemented by BJP government Priyanka Vadra is making all right noises. The attempt to neutralize the religion lead campaign of BJP and caste centric appeals of SP through the gender appeal is a good strategy for the Congress. Though it is Sonia which evolved this new strategy the Congress is not ready to give her the full credit but attribute this new appeal to the women as Rahul Gandhi’s ‘breaking conventional norms’ philosophy.
In other states, especially in Punjab where the Congress party is in self destructive mood, is also aiming at women to erase the impact of communal statements of some Congress seniors. As the party leaders claimed the only a Sikh could become a Chief Minister of Punjab it has played into the hands of BJP as conceded by Sunil Jhakar, the in-charge of party in Punjab. As the party top brass now fears the backlash of Hindu community. The attempt of Congress to project the appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi, a scheduled cast member as CM, as its pro-SC tilt is also back firing from the upper caste groups. The party which speaks of no cast no religion politics in UP campaign suddenly burdened with communal and caste political image. To overcome that the Congress is now forced to take up the appealing to women route. The promise of Rs. 2000 per month to each women and 8 free gas cylinders per year to run the house hold in smooth manner is big sop to women cutting across all barriers. In addition the Congress is promising Rs. 5000 for the girls who passes class V and Rs. 10,000 who crosses VIII class and 15,000 for those who clears the school final and finally 20,000 who goes to higher studies. Irrespective of the caste and economic status of the family the girls are promised a free tab and a scooty. These are all things which are offered by other parties in other states.
The Punjab unit of Congress is promising to open 23 skill development centers for women to impart job oriented training and also interest free loan up to 2 lakhs to start any business of their choice. Formation of special women commando battalions for women safety is another promise and to make it attractive for all the village women the Congress announced its intention to train two women from each village in security issues. Ensuring Rs. 300 per day for employable days under MGNREGA to attract women voters is also on list.
To beat them and to make the welfare of women more attractive the Congress in Punjab is coming out with novel promise. As per the party chief Navjot Singh Siddu “only 1.8% of the properties in the state are in the name of women. So he comes out with a promise of “no charge of fee in case the property is transferred in the name of women in the family”.
This is all part of the freebies offered to the women voters and this is coming out after the highly critical statements of Punjab party chief Navjyot Singh Siddu slammed the AAP after that party offered free water, free electricity for Punjabis.
The pro-women promises are not the core Congress formula but are state specific as such pro women promises are not there in other poll bound states. In Uttarakhand, where it hopes to wrest the power from BJP, the specific promise for women is the establishment of woman industrial park in 200 acre land. Himachal Pradesh, the one state where the Congress feels are already in power is not making any women specific promises but are appealing on over all development and focusing on BJP government’s failures.
Thus it is evident that Congress new found love for women is more electorally oriented to capture power rather than total commitment for the growth and empowerment of women. Many parties including Congress in the past have made similar promises only to forget after the electoral verdict. Mere promising moon to women is not going to help Congress in Uttar Pradesh as its organizational structure has collapsed and there was no serious attempt to rebuild it. So it is a big gamble to garner women votes and even party’s leadership in Delhi is not sure of how it turns, but they all know that there is no other go but to stick to that Priyanks Vadra’s projection.
(Author is retired professor and occasional contributor for dailies and magazines on politics and environmental issues. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)