How women-centric agendas could be the next big driver of change in Indian politics

The recently concluded elections in West Bengal were perhaps the most interesting political contests in recent memory. A national party, using all its might and resources, challenging one of the strongest regional parties. In the end, Mamta Banerjee, the only female chief minister in India, managed to pull off a huge victory, one that may even go on to project her as the face of the opposition in the future.

But perhaps the most significant development in Bengal and elsewhere this election season has been the way political parties have been trying to actively engage women voters and highlight policies and promises meant for their direct benefit. In the states that went for polls earlier this year, the female voter played a decisive role in deciding which party came to power. Even though identity politics continues to be a recurring theme in political campaigns, women are more likely to vote on the basis of development related issues.

The central strategy used by the TMC in the election was to project CM Mamta Banerjee as ‘Banglar Nijer Meye’ or Bengal’s own daughter. Throughout the campaign, they invested huge sums of money to advertise welfare schemes for women launched by their government. They further promised to introduce a minimum income support scheme through which up to Rs 12000 were to be directly transferred to bank accounts of women heads of each family.  Poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s digital media team was quick to call attention to any misogynistic comments by any opposition leaders, rallying more and more support for Mamta Banerjee among women. According to various surveys, TMC’s overall vote share among women voters was well above fifty per cent. It was even greater among women from lower-income households.

Elsewhere in Assam, the BJP government seems to have benefited from similar schemes floated to tilt women in its favour. According to data presented in the state budget last February, more than 1.7 million women have so far received cash assistance under Orunodoi, their direct bank transfer scheme which targets women as the ‘primary caretakers of the household’. They also facilitated generous aid and loans to self-help groups. Also, various other schemes benefited students, divorcees and unmarried women.

In Kerala as well, women voters played a crucial role in giving the Left Democratic Front a second term. Both the LDF and UDF promised some form of pension for housewives. However, the government’s welfare schemes to mitigate damage due to floods and the pandemic induced lockdown earned a lot of goodwill.

The status of women is a critical factor in making societies more prosperous. Economic empowerment of women is highly connected with poverty reduction as women tend to invest more of their earnings in their children and communities. Hence both, the Centre and State governments must attach great importance to women empowerment.

By Anshul Agarwal

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