Cong plans massive push to win back women voters

6 months ago 35
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The Congress, after its setback in the recent Bihar assembly elections, is planning a massive outreach to win back women voters in upcoming state polls, party functionaries familiar with the plan said.

The party is planning to appoint five women workers for every polling booth, at least across Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry, to secure the support of female voters. Elections are to be held in the states and Puducherry, a Union territory, before May.

“Five booth level workers will be appointed who will be responsible for translating the party’s larger narrative for women empowerment at the ground level,” Mahila Congress chief Sushmita Dev told Hindustan Times.

The push comes two days after the Mahila Congress’s national executive met to discuss and brainstorm ideas to win the support of women voters. The meeting was attended by general secretary (organization) KC Venugopal. A report will be submitted on Friday to senior party leaders, including Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, capturing the salient points of the discussion and the Congress’s outreach plan.

“All state party presidents have been asked to offer their suggestions,” a party functionary said on condition of anonymity. “Just like schedule castes and schedule tribes are treated as a separate vote-bank, so should women be.”

The need to recognise women as a separate electoral force was also noted at the meeting of the Mahila Congress’s national executive. Issues such as domestic violence against women and the difficulties they were experiencing during the pandemic were discussed. Under the Congress’s Garima campaign, 2.5 million sanitary napkins have distributed during the pandemic.

A state Congress chief said on condition of anonymity that the party was in the process of gathering suggestions. “There are three focus areas for us, women, social media and block level outreach,” the state president said. “We have already appointed 280 observers at the block-level who are in the process of identifying women who are active in politics to play a key role in the outreach.”

The state party chief added that the party would especially want to focus on housewives, semi-urban and rural women. “The percentage of working women is relatively low. We want more women from the other demographics to actively take part in politics.”

The party performed poorly in the October-November Bihar assembly elections, in which it won only 19 of the 70 seats it contested. Hindustan Times on 11 November reported how women voters influenced party-wise performance, by contrasting the number of electors and voter turnout figures, both of which are available by gender.

The data showed a massive lead of 19 percentage points in the National Democratic Alliance’s strike rate (seats won as a proportion of those contested) in assembly constituencies where the number of women who voted exceeded male voters. In fact, the higher the share of women voters in a constituency, the better was the NDA’s performance.

The NDA won 62% of the seats where women voters were more compared to just 24% seats where they were fewer.

The first party functionary cited above, however, said that an analysis showed that more women than men had voted for the Congress party. “Congress may not have received the greater share of votes, but an overall analysis shows that more women than men voted for the party. This makes them integral to our outreach.”

The functionary added that a national narrative that flowed from the top to reclaim its legacy of women empowerment was the need of the hour for the party. “Look at {Prime Minister} Narendra Modi. After they won Bihar, he said he had received the silent vote. He addressed the women directly. Congress’s problem is that its top leaders aren’t talking to women directly.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Rakesh Sinha said the Congress had lost its ideological glamour as well as organizational calibre. “Therefore, whatever it claims or whichever resolution it passes becomes ritualistic and a non-starter,” Sinha said. “Both rural and urban women experienced the worst of the Congress regime. It is the Modi government which empowered them and showed genuine concerns for them. Therefore, Congress would continue to miss women support.”

Experts too are sceptical of how much success the party’s outreach to women will yield. Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for Study of Developing Societies, said the outreach can only help the party in states where it is viewed as a serious contender.

“In states like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, the Congress is not a player, so the outreach is unlikely to make an impact,” Kumar said. “In Assam, the faultlines are different, such as the linguistic divide or Hindu-Muslim polarisation. The narrative is different. The one state where it may make an impact is Kerala.”

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