The participation of women as voters in Uttar Pradesh has increased from 44.2% in 1991 to about 63% in 2017, which shows the rise of political decision making for women as well as their importance as a vote bank in the politics of the state. Women are gearing up to play a much more important role in the Uttar Pradesh elections, and their influence has been on the rise since 1991. The first time women outvoted men in exercising their voting rights in the elections was in 2012 during the Assembly elections and this continued in 2017 and 2019. In 2014, women voter turnout was less than that of men by two percentage points, but saw an upward surge in comparison to 2009. Women are more politically mobilized and are emerging as a very decisive vote bloc – parties across the board are leaving no stones unturned to appeal to them.
In Uttar Pradesh, women voters are more inclined to vote in Assembly elections as compared to Lok Sabha elections, making parties’ attempts to woo them during state elections even more important. While the Indian National Congress (INC), led by the state in-charge Priyanka Gandhi, is announcing one promise after another aiming to appease all demographics of women, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is focusing on highlighting its achievements in the last five years in improving women’s safety and welfare. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), led by the only former female Chief Minister of the state, Mayawati, is banking on her image and support from female voters, while Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) is attacking the lack of safety and welfare for women under the Yogi Adityanath regime. Let’s take a look at the historic patterns of support from women voters in the state and the promises that parties are making to woo them on the road to the 2022 elections.
INC AND THE PRIYANKA GANDHI EFFECT
In the months leading up to the 2022 Assembly elections, the general secretary of the All India Congress Committee in-charge of Uttar Pradesh has been leading the party charge to reach out to women voters in the state. As part of a special manifesto announced on 8 December in Lucknow called the Shakti Vidhan Mahila Ghoshna Patra, the Congress has promised to grant 40% reservation for women in government jobs, while setting aside 25% of jobs in the police for them, if it is voted to power in Uttar Pradesh. Gandhi has also promised that 40% of the tickets from her party will go to women and the allocation of 50% of PDS (public distribution system) shops to women. Priyanka Gandhi also launched a 100-day action plan on 17 November aiming to reach out to women voters. The initiative was launched in Ram Ghat at Chitrakoot and aims to mobilize seven crore women voters in the state through 8,000 women volunteers, 5,000 mobile women’s units and 100 town halls.
However, the party’s efforts to woo women voters do not end here. About four crore women voters in the state are in the age bracket of 18-35 years. In an attempt to woo female voters in this demographic, the party has promised free mobile phones to girls who pass the class 12 examination, and electric scooters to those women who complete graduation, apart from free wifi. In order to appease women voters from older age groups, the party is offering free LPG cylinders, free travel in state transport buses, increasing the wages of ASHA workers and the introduction of an old age widow pension scheme. As per analysts, the INC has focused on making gender issues their main talking point for the Assembly elections as the party lacks the support of any caste / community vote bank. In the past, the Congress has had an edge over women voters even when compared to the BJP. However, a pre-election survey by CSDS-Lokniti found that while the Congress has made gains among women, the BJP too has registered a rise in support from women. This indicates that it could be losing its gender advantage. While the party has made a long list of promises to appease women voters from various demographics, it made several similar promises in 2017. In its 2017 manifesto, the party promised to enact a special law for handling crimes against women (along with other marginalized groups) and the Kanya Sanshaktikaran Yojana amongst several other promises, however, this failed to make inroads with the women voters of UP.
BJP: FOCUS ON WOMEN’S SAFETY AND EMPOWERMENT
yanath. While the party doesn’t have a prominent female leader taking charge in the state, it has been calling in political heavyweights, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce its welfare policies which have benefitted female voters in the state in the past 5 years. In a rally last week, the Prime Minister announced various government schemes for women, including the transfer of Rs 1,000 crore to women-led self-help groups, benefitting around 16 lakh women and laid the foundation stone of more than 200 supplementary nutrition manufacturing units. He also announced that over Rs. 20 crore was transferred to more than one lakh beneficiaries under the “Mukhya Mantri Kanya Sumangala Scheme”. Schemes like Ujjwala Yojana, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and PM Awas Yojana have benefited the BJP and added to the appeal of the BJP for women voters. Apart from lauding its past achievements, the party has also announced ‘Kamal Saheli Clubs’, Gram Sabha Chaupals and constituency-wise Mahila Sammelans (women summits) across the state. The proposal to raise the minimum age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 is also being presented as a step towards women’s empowerment by the party.
Trends from the National Election Study (NES) conducted by the CSDS shows that the BJP still remains a less preferred party for women across different social groups, although their support amongst females is rising. However, the party has undoubtedly benefited from the launch of women-centric welfare schemes, including its flagship Ujjwala scheme. During the 2017 Assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP heavily banked on the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana that provided over 1.47 crore families with free LPG connections in UP alone. The scheme was launched by the PM himself from Ballia in UP in 2016. Since arranging for fuel to cook food is considered a women’s responsibility in various parts of the country, the provision of free LPG cylinders came as a huge relief for women voters and the BJP continues to be popular among beneficiaries of the scheme.
The Samajwadi Party’s (SP) best performance in an Assembly election was in 2012, when for the first time, the female electorate outvoted men and breached the 60 percent mark. In the past, the party has launched some key welfare schemes, including the 1090 women’s helpline as well as Kanya Vidya Dhan, along with widow and old age pension schemes to win over women voters. The Akhilesh Yadav-led SP government established the Rani Laxmibai Mahila Samman Kosh for providing monetary and medical assistance to destitute women and women survivors of heinous crimes like acid attacks and sexual assault. In the months leading up to the 2022 elections, Akhilesh Yadav has been routinely raising issues of what he calls the “aadhi aabadi”. Yadav has been criticising the Yogi government’s decision to discontinue the Kanyadhan Yojana, and incidents of sexual violence in Hathras and other regions. The party has also created its women’s wing and has allocated two women workers per booth to promise safety to women voters coming out to vote. The party is also in an alliance with Jayant Chaudhary’s Rashtriya Lok Dal which has also promised 50% reservation to women in state government jobs. In addition to this, he has promised to increase the number of women in the police force to 50%. RLD’s manifesto promises to double the pension for widows to Rs. 1500 per month, along with assuring the supply of free sanitary pads to adolescent girls studying in government-funded schools.
BSP AND THE MAYAWATI APPEAL
The BSP, led by party President Mayawati, who was the first female Dalit Chief Minister of India, has enjoyed significant support from women voters in the past. A 2017 survey showed that the BSP is marginally popular among women as compared to men. As the proportion of female voters went up, the NDA’s vote share dipped and in seats where the female voters were less than 80%, the share of BSP was just 18.7%, whereas in seats where women voted more than men, the BSP’s vote share was about 24%. During her tenure, the BSP government initiated the Saubhagyawati Surakshit Matretev Yojana (SSMY) for pregnant women living below the poverty line. With a special focus on girl students from BPL families, the BSP government launched the Savitribai Phule Balika Shiksha Madad Yojana (SBSMY), under which Rs. 25,000 and a bicycle were given to female students.
Leading up to the 2022 elections, the BSP has been organizing women’s rallies across towns in UP, with a special emphasis on urban women- ‘Prabudha Mahila Vichar Gosthi’. The party is also organizing “BSP Mahila Sammelan’ across the state on issues of women security and honour. In a series of tweets, the former Chief Minister attacked the BJP and INC’s attempts to appease women voters. “The approach of Congress, BJP towards women empowerment is almost the same & mostly publicity oriented… under the BSP govt a lot of efforts were made for social, economic & educational self-reliance of women, which rival parties are now trying to cash in on,” she said. During her tenure, Mayawati was seen as a hard administrator and tough on crime. This made her popular among women, who perceived her as fighting hooliganism, and the party is now banking on her image as behenji to increase its appeal among the women voters across the state.
Contributing reports by Damini Mehta, Junior Research Associate at Polstrat and Madhav Chadha, Intern at Polstrat.