Priyanka Vadra’s Women-Centric Campaign Long Shot In UP

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Priyanka Vadra’s Women-Centric Campaign Long Shot In UP

| Updated: January 26, 2022 12:55

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s clarification that she was not the chief ministerial face of her party in Uttar Pradesh must have delighted many in the opposition camp on Saturday. She explained her ‘you can see my face everywhere’ statement from the previous day as stemming from “irritation”, precisely due to persistent questions about the possibility.

Questions about the chief ministerial face of the Congress, which secured only 6 to 7 per cent of votes in the last three parliamentary and assembly elections, can be irritating. The Congress has been reduced to three MLAs in UP — down
from seven in 2017. Most of its former legislators have deserted it. In her heart of hearts, Priyanka knows the Congress’ poll prospects in UP. That probably explains why Priyanka seems tempered on the Congress’s women-centric UP poll campaign, although she has managed to create a buzz. There are her promises to women— 40 per cent reservation in government jobs, 25 per cent of police posts, 50 per cent Public Distribution System (PDS) shops, phones, scooters. Then it’s the Congress candidates — a rape victim’s mother, an ex-Miss Bikini India winner and a TV anchor, among others. It’s easy to diss Priyanka’s ‘ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon’ poll slogan. And it’s better still for her political adversaries to ridicule her promises to UP women. After all, it’s easy to promise the moon.

The fact, however, is that it’s a first in a long time. Women’s rights and empowerment are seldom the exclusive focus of a party’s poll campaign. As it is, every party offers something or the other to woo women voters; every election speech is rife with the ‘empowerment’ dialogue. But only a few politicians or parties go to polls with women’s issues at the centre of their poll campaign. That’s what makes Priyanka’s poll pitch in UP interesting. However, the BJP may not be bothered about Priyanka’s UP campaign, because the Congress is virtually extinct in the state, with no organisational machinery at the grassroots to carry her message beyond media headlines. But it could be a bother to the BJP if Priyanka carries her ‘Ladki hoon, Ladh Sakti Hoon’ campaign beyond UP 2022. Lokniti-CSDS surveys over the years show that the BJP has a “gender disadvantage”, despite the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s welfare schemes have helped it to make big inroads into women voters’ constituency.
The fact is that the Modi factor might have swung women voters for the BJP, but the party has done precious little to make it a party of their choice. Women are grossly underrepresented in the BJP’s power hierarchy. Among the dozen BJP presidents in the past 41 years, none have been a woman. In the 30-member Union Cabinet, there are only two women — Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani. There is not a single woman among a dozen BJP chief ministers. Among seven
deputy CMs, there is just one woman — Renu Devi in Bihar.

The seven-member, all-powerful Parliamentary Board, the apex decision-making body of the party, is an exclusively male domain. Among 36 chiefs of states and Union territories, there is just one female — Sharda Devi of Manipur. Lokniti-CSDS surveys show that the BJP has a gender gap when it comes to voting patterns, despite the PM making a huge difference. Post-Modi, the game is wide open when it comes to women voters. That’s where Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s women-centric experiment in politics can be a game-changer.

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