Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi is trying to revive the party in Uttar Pradesh. She is doing it by identifying and targeting the 50 per cent of voters, the women voters. On Thursday, she announced the names of 50 women on the party’s first list of 125 candidates. The list got attention as it had some prominent names. They are prominent names as they have been associated with the injustices happening against women in the state. This includes the Unnao rape survivor’s mother, an ASHA worker, a former SP leader, and a social activist, among others.
Uttar Pradesh has been the most challenging state for Congress as it has been out of power in the state for over three decades. The party that has never won even 50 seats since 1991 reached the mark of 7 out of 114 seats in 2017. They contested in 2017 in an alliance with the Samajwadi Party.
The All India Congress Committee secretary and in-charge of Uttar Pradesh had a mammoth challenge of wiping the slate clean and building congress from scratch. It is doing it the traditional way, addressing several communities and their issues on the ground level. One can argue that announcing 40 per cent of the seats to women and identifying them as a powerful voter base got the attention Congress was craving.
There are several reasons for it. The palpable frustration against the Yogi Adityanath government for rising prices, unemployment was timed well with this announcement. But the female voters of Uttar Pradesh had several other reasons.
They saw the pompous Ujjwala Scheme failing to keep up with any of its promises. Because of the scheme, there is a cylinder in every household, but women are collecting wood and are returning to the traditional method of cooking. The reason is the current price of LPG, which has crossed Rs 900 across the country.
In a report published in Gaon connection, Rajendra Prasad, former president of the National Chest Society in Lucknow said, “Even today, women in rural India cook food on wood stoves in which they use wood and dung cakes. Smoke from it is the leading cause of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). This is as harmful as the smoke from cigarettes.”
In most of the houses, the women manage the house budget with the limited money given to them, mostly by their husbands. Women in Uttar Pradesh have been identifying the need for more money with a rise in the price of almost everything, from cooking oil to vegetables. This instead forces them to compromise on the health of the family and the education of the kids.
The safety of the women, especially a woman belonging to the Dalit community, has become a point of concern after the brutal rape and murder in Hathras was reported across the media. The authorities’ forcible cremation of the body of the girl at midnight painted a gruesome picture of the Yogi government.
But will these issues culminate in a massive vote share for Congress? According to the reports from the ground, it is most likely not. However, it will definitely set a precedent for politics that has ignored women as leaders as well as voters.
Congress might have taken an example from the states where optimizing this voter base was successful. In the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, the governing party TMC, led by Mamta Banerjee, reserved 40 per cent of its seats for women. In Odisha, the Biju Janata Dal led by Nitish Kumar gave 7 out of 21 seats to women candidates, out of which 5 seats were secured with a successful margin. Though Bihar’s chief minister, Nitish Kumar, didn’t provide reservation. It is a known fact that his policies centred around women’s welfare, and that led to his victory as he managed to capture half of the voter base.
Meanwhile, to predict that this might work for Congress as well would be to be ignorant of a bigger point. The other states already had a government in power and the women trusted them based on their work. In Uttar Pradesh, Congress has no substantial work to show. This can be a huge factor in deciding the success of such announcements.
At best, what Priyanka Gandhi is doing can be considered a trial and error method as Congress has no big risks in Uttar Pradesh.