Women Power to the Fore

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Naveen Patnaik, like his legendary father Biju Patnaik, has proved himself to be a true feminist. What he has done for the empowerment of women has become an example for the rest of the country.

Political parties in India have begun to realize the power of the female voter. This is evident from the way political parties in states going to the polls early next year are competing with one another in offering sops to women. The increased thrust on women-centric announcements by parties and state governments is an encouraging sign and signals a rise in the clout of members of the fair sex who until now were taken for granted by most parties.

One of the first to try and woo women votes has been the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, the most important state going to the polls next year. Building up the party’s campaign for the 2022 assembly elections in the crucial heartland state, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra pledged to make womenfolk a “full-fledged partner in power”. She has announced that her party will give 40% tickets to women candidates. She has also promised free travel in government buses to women, if voted to power.

In Punjab AAP national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal recently promised a monthly grant of Rs 1,000 for all women above 18 years of age. On the other Congress, which is presently ruling the state, has doled out schemes like free bus rides and 33% reservation in government jobs for women.

In Uttarakhand, where a BJP government is in power, Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently launched CM Ghasiyari Yojana under which the women in the hills, where they have to trek 2 to 10 kms to gather cattle feed, will be provided with a kit to gather fodder.

Results of last elections in states like Odisha and Bihar have brought the power of women into sharp focus. In Bihar, where a JD(U)-BJP was voted back to power last year, women voted overwhelmingly in favour of the combine, a fact acknowledged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. In Odisha, members of the fair sex have been voting loyally for the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal eversince 2000 when Patnaik came to power for the first time after dislodging the Congress from office.

Patnaik has been able to build up a strong women vote bank by launching a string of women-centric schemes which not only help them in different ways but also seek to make them economically self-dependent. The tremendous success of the women self-help group (SHG) movement under the aegis of Mission Shakti, which is now a full-fledged government department, has created a role model for the rest of the country. Led by Sujata R Karthikeyan, one of the most dynamic IAS officers of the state, Mission Shakti has been setting new benchmarks by making women truly empowered and self-reliant. Impressed by the success of the women SHG movement chief minister Naveen Patnaik had made septuagenarian SHG leader Pramila Bisoi BJD’s Lok Sabha candidate from Aska. She won hands down.

Patnaik, like his legendary father Biju Patnaik, has proved himself to be a true feminist. What he has done for the empowerment of women has become an example for the rest of the country. In the coming years we may find more political parties and state governments doing much more for women.

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