Haryana: political parties all out to woo women voters ahead of Lok Sabha, Assembly polls

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Subsidised LPG cylinders, monthly doles to meet kitchen expenses and the arrangement for free legal and medical consultation — these are some of the promises political parties in Haryana are making to woo women voters in the run-up to the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.

The parties are also holding conferences to win over the support of women voters, who in the past decade have played a crucial role in deciding the fate of the elections while rising above the caste lines.

The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) women cell general secretary Sunaina Chautala claims that her party pioneered in launching all-woman conferences in the State, with its “Hari Chunari Chaupals” initiative way back in 2015.

She said the INLD expects women to play a pivotal role for the revival of her party, which saw its support base eroding over the years and suffered a schism following a feud in the Chautala family, leading to the formation Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) ahead of the 2019 Haryana Assembly poll.

She said, “Unlike men, who mostly vote on caste lines, women tend to vote more on socio-economic issues affecting them such as crime rate, unemployment and inflation.”

Ms. Chautala said this has necessitated to treat women as a separate vote bank, which is also impacted by the growing trend of the youth going abroad in search of jobs due to rising unemployment.

She added that is was her party’s government under the Chief Ministership of Om Prakash Chautala between 2000-2004 that had set up a State commission for women welfare, underscoring their commitment towards women empowerment.

The party has also promised “satsang bhawans” in each village for elderly women to hold religious congregations.

Meanwhile, the JJP — the INLD’s breakaway faction — too has its eyes firmly set on women voters.

“The party has already delivered on its promise of 50% reservation for women in panchayats and one-third reservation in the allotment of fair price shops,” said JJP spokesperson Deep Kamal Saharan.

He insisted that the INLD’s “Hari Chunari Chaupals” campaign was, in fact, the brainchild of JJP’s Badhra MLA Naina Chautala, the first women from the Chautala family to enter active politics in 2014.

Ms. Naina Chautala has held 55 “chaupals” in as many Assembly constituencies so far this year, said Mr. Saharan.

Haryana Pradesh Mahila Congress president Sudha Bhardwaj, too, said women voters have become politically more aware and assertive.

“Unlike previously when they cast their votes as per diktats of the men in their families, they are increasingly using their own discretion now. Women electorate had also played a pivotal role in Congress’s Karnataka win,” he said.

“In Haryana, we run a dedicated helpline in each district to provide free legal and medical consultation to women. Our party has also promised LPG cylinders at ₹500, ₹6,000 elderly pension and 300 units of free electricity,” Ms. Bhardwaj added.

BJP Central Parliamentary Board member Sudha Yadav, speaking to women members of a self-help group in Jharsa, said the participation of women have increased in all spheres during the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.

BJP’s social campaigns strategist Sunil Jaglan, who has launched the “Mahila Hiteshi Modi” campaign ahead of the Lok Sabha poll, said the awareness among women has risen over the past decade and it was evident with their growing participation in several agitations, including farmers’ protests and stir against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

“Even those women who don’t go out to work talk about how the government policies and schemes have impacted them. I believe various government schemes under Prime Minister Narendra Modi such as the Ujjawala plan, have impacted the lives of the poor women in a positive manner. The reservation for women in Parliament and State Legislatures has become a reality under the Modi rule,” he said.

Mr. Jaglan says the Prime Minister had also launched “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” campaign in Haryana in 2015 to curb the menace of female foeticide.

Meanwhile, All-India Democratic Women’s Association national vice-president Jagmati Sangwan said the participation of women in electoral politics in Haryana has indeed gone up.

However, she says the political parties have treated them merely as a vote bank instead of coming out with concrete and time-bound programmes for their socio-economic uplift.

“Haryana has been a witness to long and sustained agitations of ASHAs and Anganwadi workers for better wages, forcing the government to agree to their demands, but those are yet to be implemented in full,” she said.

Ms. Sangwan said the rate of crime against women is still high in Haryana.

“We recently saw how former Chief Minister Manohar Lal supported his Minister Sandeep Singh, who was accused of sexual harassment,” she said.

“The women wrestlers’ protest [against sexual harassment] was another glaring example of the women’s plight. The sex ratio in the 0-6 years age group remains skewed against girls in the State and the beneficiaries of the Ujjawala scheme are unable to get their cylinders refilled with the rise in prices,” she added.



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