General Elections 2019

Verdict 2019: Why did women vote for BJP?

The party's flagship schemes like Ujjwala and PM Awas provided women economic ownership and not just mere access to property

 
By Swasti Pachauri
Last Updated: Wednesday 12 June 2019
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sampa Devi (32) from Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh is happy with the gas cylinder and toilet, which she could avail under the aegis of Ujjwala Yojana and the Swachh Bharat Mission, respectively.

Recalling how cash transfers for housing and PM Kisan Samman Nidhi helped households in her village including her husband, Sampa mentioned how her family believed their days would look better ahead.

Chunni Devi (25) from Madhubani, Bihar, and Santosh Devi (40) from Bareilly also expressed admiration for Ujjwala.

Verdict 2019 has brought the attention back to women, making the elections that just went by, a first in many respects.

For one, besides ringing in the era of single-party (the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance) dominance, this election has seen parity in the voting percentage of men and women at 66.79 per cent and 66.68 per cent, respectively.

Second, the 17th Lok Sabha has a record number of women parliamentarians — the highest-ever standing at 78

And finally, the rise and rise of the hitherto-perceived silent woman — which was last tangibly observed in the Bihar elections of 2010.

That election saw the revolutionary Mukhya Mantri Balika Cycle Yojana that empowered scores of women and adolescent girls, redefining the electoral arithmetic of targeting the woman voter.

Women-centric targeting

In their book, The Verdict (2019), Prannoy Roy and Dorab R Sopariwala argue how women have forged ahead and voted in large numbers — from 47 per cent in 1962 to 66 per cent in 2014.

Women are one of the most critical electoral constituencies visible, with many a women-centric scheme aimed at making rural infrastructure accessible to women and economically enabling them.

Programmes such as the Swachh Bharat Mission, incorporating principles of dignity and access via Izzat Ghars especially for women and Ujjwala are schemes that facilitate access to rural infrastructure and assets to women.

Financial inclusion schemes such as Beti Bachao, the PM Jan Dhan, the Sukanya Samridhi Yojana, and the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana have possibly reaped exponential dividends for the BJP this election.

Additionally, a discourse that has focused on curating entitlements and enabling women than the mere politics of doling out, has been working for political parties.

There has been careful targeting of schemes such as the launch of Beti Bachao in Haryana, a state fighting grave sex ratios, the start of the Ujjwala scheme in Balia district of Uttar Pradesh, the state that sends the largest number of MPs to the Lok Sabha, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act ensuring wage equality under United Progressive Alliance I and II, and the recent announcements of free bus and metro rides for women by the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi.

These are all electoral strategies that have political wisdom and women-centric development at the centre stage, facilitating economic empowerment of women that precedes subsequent social and political empowerment of poor rural and urban women.

Economic Ownership

Consider the Ujjjwala scheme that aims to address ecological, human and social empowerment and has tangible impact over and above the qualitative benefits of addressing public health hazards of indoor pollution affecting women and children, and socio-economic empowerment of women.

Covering a total of 714 districts with over seven crore gas connections distributed, the scheme worked well on the ground, as is evident by the accounts of Sampa, Chunni and Santoshi Devi.

Take the BIMARU (old coinage) states, for instance. In Bihar, the connections as on June 3, 2019 were 78,99,046; in Madhya Pradesh the number was 64,42,885; Rajasthan 56,98,870; Uttar Pradesh — where the BJP has managed to sweep the state with 62 wins out of 80 Lok Sabha seats — has had 1,29,60,428 connections disbursed.

Additionally, in states such as Chhattisgarh, the gas connections disbursed were 26,91,764, and in Odisha, the number was 42,30,767.

It is important to note here that schemes such as Ujjwala address the structural caveats that exclude women from property and asset ownership/rights owing to societal norms, patriarchal conventions, and improper implementation of interpersonal legislations and land reforms.

Land, as we know it, is the most critical economic determinant of rural poverty and is attributed with stark ownership inequalities. Consider the statistics by NCAER according to which, even though women comprise over 42 per cent of agricultural labour, yet own less than 2 per cent of its farmland.

In the absence of land ownership, women take economic and social solace in the limited assets they own — small household items, cash savings, durables such as sewing machines, if provided and in their names, useful utensils such as pressure cookers/grinders, ownership, and proximity to livestock, and jewellery.

Additionally, government documents such as EPIC, Aadhar, Jan Dhan accounts, job cards under MGNREGA, access to loans via self-help groups under National Rural Livelihoods Mission are other entitlements that help them feel included, empowered, acknowledged, and recognised, paving the way for economic betterment.

It is in this context that schemes such as Ujjwala and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana target this economic exclusion.

Under Ujjwala, the gas connections are in the name of the female member of the household, and under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, the ownership of a house has to be in the name of the female members of the household.

Research has shown ownership, and not mere access to property, results in less physical and psychological violence against women.

Economic enablers such as the PM Mudra Yojana, which granted over 70 per cent of loans to women, are schemes that successfully act as poverty alleviators for women.

Additionally, policies such as maternity leave of six months to working women, criminalisation of Triple Talaq for the socio-economic upliftment of Muslim women, upward mobility via the JAM (Jan Dhan-Aadhar-Mobile phones) trinity — incidentally the term that figured in the Economic Survey 0f 2014-15 five years before verdict 2019 – have all contributed to scripting change for the BJP, giving it a thumping mandate in this election.

It is only valid to take note of the ripple effects of the Aadhar-led direct benefit transfers here that have their origins in the governance of UPA II.

Schemes and rights-based legislations such as the implementation of the Food Security Act (2013) and the MGNREGA (2006) that redefined wage equality of men and women at the grassroots and empowered women are success stories that targeted social, economic, and political empowerment of women albeit the various caveats that have been pointed time and again.

The new government should therefore continue with its women-driven agenda. The first step should be to consider the recommendations of Women Farmers' Entitlements Bill 2011 as introduced by MS Swaminathan, the then Rajya Sabha member and overhaul the present scenario that excludes women from the official definition of farmers in absence of any ownership rights.

Ownership rights to assets such as land and household utilities like gas cylinders — go a long way in disrupting the status quo in gender economics.

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