Women voters outnumber men in 29 of Madhya Pradesh’s 230 Assembly seats, and 25 of these are either reserved for tribal communities or have large tribal populations, the Election Commission said as it released the final list of voters for next month’s election. Less than 10 months ago there were 18 seats in which women voters outnumbered men.
The ruling BJP and Congress will now go head-to-head for these votes, and bank on their respective women-centric schemes – ‘Laadli Behana Yojana‘ and ‘Nari Samman Yojana‘.
Ahead of this election, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan – who has had to deal with the rape of a 15-year-old girl in Ujjain that provoked serious questions about safety of women – called himself “the voice of women empowerment”. “My sisters… you have welcomed your brother by performing aarti and lighting a lamp… I will never let there be darkness in your life. I am promising sisters of the state – I am the voice for women empowerment… I am Shivraj.”
The BJP’s state unit boss, VD Sharma, praised Mr Chouhan’s leadership and hailed a 35 per cent quota for direct recruitment of women for government jobs. “‘Beti bachao, beti padhao‘ is the resolution of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ‘Ladli behna’ is the resolution of our Chief Minister. Only yesterday Rs 1,250 was transferred to accounts of our sisters.”
The Congress has hit out at the BJP for remembering women only before an election.
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Congress leader Firoz Siddiqui mocked Mr Chouhan for courting women’s votes, saying, “When there are elections, then the BJP remembers women. The BJP stopped pension for disabled people, for elderly people, and for women… when women were in trouble, Shivraj did not remember them. Now Shivrajji is in trouble, so he is remembering them.”
Away from the political slugfest, the women of Madhya Pradesh have welcomed an increasingly active role in the state’s political and other public spaces. “Women have started becoming active… they have started participating. This is a good thing… voting percentage of women is going up,” Mita Wadhwa, a social activist, told String Reveals.
Women, though, are aware of the “political angle”. “Today things have changed… people are thinking about women. This is good… if we remove the political angle, work is being done for women. In the college where I study, there is 20 per cent reservation for women,” Ramsha Khan, a student, told String Reveals.
Significantly, of the 29 seats with more women voters than men (today), the Congress won 20 in the last election and the BJP eight. The final seat went to an independent candidate.
The big question (one of several) is if increased women voters will persuade parties to field more women candidates in these 29 seats. The centre’s controversial quota bill – which guarantees 33 per cent reservation for women – won’t be in effect for several years, so there is no pressure on the BJP, the Congress or any other party to field more women candidates.
As of now, Madhya Pradesh has 21 women MLAs – 11 from the BJP, 10 from the Congress and a lone Bahujan Samaj Party leader. This is less than 10 per cent of the House strength. If the law is enforced, there will be 76 women lawmakers.