Not Just Pro-women Schemes, It’s a Deep Bond That Connects Modi With His Female Voters
The results of the recent Bihar election and the consequent reaffirmation of popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, despite what seemed like a perfect storm arrayed against the NDA government, has had multiple consequences. One the one hand, the infighting within the Congress, which had been put on hold, seems to have again started and with renewed vigor. On the other, the commentariat in Delhi’s elite circles seem to have finally accepted, though grudgingly, that among various sections of people who vote overwhelmingly for Modi, one definite block is that of the women voters.
That he comes from a humble background also helps him better appreciate the nature of the welfare programs that should get priority and then be the focus of his execution skills. Hence the focus on schemes such as Ujjwala, Jan Dhan, Mudra, Pradhan Mantri Aawaas and Jan Suraksha among others, all of which have overwhelmingly benefitted women.
The empowerment that these schemes have provided, right from the time they were conceived, especially to those at the margins, have now been fairly well documented. The impact of these schemes, however, became even more pronounced when a global calamity like COVID-19 struck. It was the web of these schemes that came to the rescue of crores of women and sustained millions of families and helped prevent severe economic disruption from turning into economic distress.
Consider the following efforts undertaken just during the COVID-19 induced lockdown. As many as 19.86 crore women Jan Dhan account holders received Rs 500 each in their account per month for a period of three months. A total of Rs 30,000 crore was transferred to women during the peak of lockdown period. Rs 1,400 crore was disbursed to about 2.82 crore old age person, widow and disabled people. Each beneficiary received an ex-gratia cash of Rs 1,000 under the scheme.
Women received free LPG refills for three months under the Ujjwala Yojana with an outlay of almost 5,000 crore. In totality, over 11.97 crore LPG cylinders were provided for free. The Garib Kalyan Yojana of providing free rations during the pandemic induced lockdown to over 80 crore people for eight months also overwhelmingly benefitted women, as it is they who are in charge of the kitchen.
But providing economic relief during a health pandemic cannot be the sufficient reason to build an enduring voter base among women. It requires sustained welfare efforts for a much longer period. Among a surfeit of such achievements, consider just a select few.
This struggle resonates with the everyday life of women who face similar challenges in their personal and professional lives – of not being treated equally and denied due dignity and respect. Therefore, women identify with Modi who is someone just like them and who succeeds despite obstacles while facing almost similar challenges like them.
Second, despite the system being loaded against Modi, he has never turned negative or nihilistic. His rhetoric is never pessimistic or rejectionist. He is not out to wreck the system but to reform it, to rebuild it and to make it work. Again, a trait which women find resonating with their own life experiences.
Third, Modi is neither reckless nor profligate with finances. One direct consequence of this of course has been that he has been able to control inflation, which had skyrocketed into double digits under the Congress regime. But on a more instinctive level, this again resonates with those women who have to similarly balance their own household budgets and do not have the luxury to be reckless.
Fourth, Modi understands and displays the benefits of having immense patience. When to keep counsel to oneself; how to just lie low and keep on working and working till the right time comes; how not to be distracted from the larger goal by transitory events – all are traits that define Modi in many ways and are simultaneously the life story of almost all women who manage households in India.
Fifth, in essence, the politics of Modi is about our family – the Indian family. Just as an illustration, Modi is from Gujarat, contest elections from Uttar Pradesh but has spent substantial amount of energy, time and political capital in the North East. A normal politician would not do it, and indeed none before Modi did it and that is why that region remained so underdeveloped. Others just looked it from their political benefit lens. Modi looks at it as one caring for every member of the family, which obviously resonates with the role women play in their life every day.
Sixth, in ambition and aspiration Modi never ever sets small targets. They are not unachievable or fantastical either, but they do require one to stretch extra and work hard. In this, he is again not different from women who find themselves playing a similar role within their families – of being the chief motivator and the benevolent monitor and of being the cheerful encourager of every success and the silent inspiration behind every minute of extra work put in.