New Delhi: The BJP is trying to use the name of political icon Sushma Swaraj, who has been an ‘inspiration’ to connect with more and more women voters before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. BJP sources told ThePrint that the Sushma Swaraj Award is being given to 10 women from each district of the country with the hope that the awardees will prove to be ‘influencers’ for the party.
BJP leaders ThePrint spoke to insisted that Swaraj, the former external affairs minister, was a more ideal ‘role model’ than ‘any other new-age leader’ as she was not only an experienced politician but also deeply rooted in her cultural roots. She also attached great importance to being associated with the community, whether it was fasting for Karva Chauth or applying bindi.
Rajya Sabha member Indu Goswami, who attended the Sushma Swaraj award ceremony held in Shimla district on Sunday, said, “The basic idea behind giving awards to women in the name of Sushma Swaraj is to immortalize their contribution.” She was highly respected and favorite woman leader among all political parties. She was the first woman leader among the Generation X leaders of the party, who influenced women across India with her personal and public conduct.
Goswami said, ‘She was a role model for Indian women. She would wear a saree, always wear a big bindi on her forehead and observe Karva Chauth fast, and engage the opposition in Parliament with clear and forceful Hindi speeches, keeping facts and feelings in check. By honoring women, we want to connect more women with Sushmaji’s legacy.
Vanathi Srinivasan, national president of the BJP Mahila Morcha, told ThePrint that the women’s wing in every state and district has selected women achievers in different walks of life.
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He further said, ‘We are acknowledging her outstanding contribution and achievements in women’s service. So far, more than 9,000 women have been given the Sushma Swaraj Award for their contribution, so that they can become an inspiration to others in the society like Sushma Swaraj.
In the last few days, the party has presented Sushma Swaraj Awards to women in different parts of the country.
26 women were honored in the presence of Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami on this Sunday in Dehradun. In Jammu on Sunday itself, in the presence of former Deputy CM Kavinder Gupta and J&K BJP General Secretary (Organisation) Ashok Kaul, the party felicitated women from various walks of life, including a pilot, an IIT researcher, a professor, an entrepreneur and a Artists included.
The Haryana government, which announced the Sushma Swaraj Award in its 2022 budget, also presented awards to several women on 10 March.
Now a big hope of the party is that the award winning women will be helpful in connecting the party with the women voters.
On the condition of anonymity, a Lok Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh also told the reason for this.
He said, “Despite Prime Minister Modi’s welfare programs focused on women, our penetration among women in some states is less than that of male voters. In our party meetings, we were told that reaching out to women through influencers is more effective. Many people don’t want to listen to speeches, but when pilots, women entrepreneurs, professors talk about welfare programs or tell about our good work, the impact is manifold. These women achievers will prove to be more helpful in taking the party to its target group.
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‘Mandal, Kamandal and now women’
There are many prominent women leaders in the BJP, including Union ministers Smriti Irani, Pratima Bhowmik, Darshana Jardosh and Sadhvi Niranjana Jyoti. But sources say that none of them have the same ‘aura’ as Swaraj, who died on August 6, 2019, at the age of 67.
A woman Lok Sabha MP from Maharashtra said, ‘She was an excellent orator, effective parliamentarian, dedicated politician, liberal foreign minister, good wife, mother and sister. Despite rising to the top of the BJP and power structure, she never lost her modesty unlike many other new-age women leaders. This is the reason why no other woman leader has reached the same height as Sushma.
The said MP said that it was Sushma Swaraj who made it more accessible for ‘ordinary women’ to pursue a career in politics.
She said, ‘Earlier, public life was reserved only for elite women. With her determination, she made it possible for ordinary women to enter politics. She was the only woman politician to be captured in the public mind. By bringing Sushmaji’s life ideals to the fore, we want to connect with the women class in a more aggressive manner.
A central leader of the party said on the condition of anonymity that ahead of the elections, the party is focusing on this segment with a more strategic focus.
He said, ‘Mandal happened in 1990, Kamandal happened after that and now women’s catchment area is the new strategy of BJP’s politics.’
The term ‘Mandal’ refers to politics relating to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Scheduled Castes (SCs), which came into limelight in the name of the Mandal Commission of 1979. ‘Kamandal’ is a synonym in Hindutva politics, indicating a water pot used by spiritual leaders.
The central BJP leader further said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been repeatedly asking party workers to adopt a focussed approach on women’s welfare.
In his speech on the occasion of Independence Day last year, the PM discussed in detail how ‘Nari Shakti’ can take the country to new heights. Even on the BJP’s 42nd foundation day last April, the PM underlined how ‘women have come forward to vote for us in the last several elections’. Modi had said that it reflects both a ‘social awakening’ and an ‘electoral trend’.
The central leader said, ‘PM mentioned the power of silent women voters in ensuring development and BJP’s victory in many states. The party has also defeated the anti-incumbency wave in Tripura by fielding a large number of women candidates. More women leaders will expand the BJP’s sphere of influence, so continuous attention is being paid to reach out to more and more women.
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How important are women voters
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP secured 37.36 per cent votes, its highest vote share since the party’s formation in 1980. During this, another record was broken and the vote percentage of men and women remained almost equal (both 66 per cent). Earlier, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections also there was a significant increase in the number of women voters. That time, around 65 per cent women voted, up from 55 per cent in 2009.
Moreover, data from two post-poll surveys show that more women than men voted for the BJP in the 2022 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa. The party has won elections in all these four states.
The voting percentage of women in UP was 62.24 per cent against 59.96 per cent of men; In Uttarakhand this figure was 67.2 per cent as against 62.6 per cent; In Goa, the voting percentage of women was 80.96 percent against 78.19 percent of men; And in Manipur it was 90.5 per cent as against 87.9 per cent. In Punjab, where the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came to power, men turned out to be marginally higher than women voters, with the figures standing at 71.99 per cent (men) and 71.91 per cent (women).
Through women-centric schemes like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Ujjwala, and Sukanya Samriddhi, the BJP is believed to have been successful in increasing its female voter base in various states. The PM often speaks on issues related to women in public speeches and the party fielded more women candidates than other parties in the 2019 general election.
BJP Mahila Morcha chief Srinivasan told ThePrint that efforts are on to woo more women for the 2024 elections through various schemes and programmes.
One such program is ‘Kamal Mitra’, which is to be launched next month. Under this, women have to be trained to provide awareness about the schemes of Modi government to other women.
Srinivasan said, ‘We are connecting with women through many other measures like Kamal Mitra. Our target is to prepare one lakh Kamal Mitra. We are also training our workers to run the Kamal Mitra programme. These Kamal Mitras will help women to overcome the difficulties in availing benefits of government schemes at the grassroots level. Our target is to reach one crore women through selfies with the beneficiaries.
“We are giving (Sushma Swaraj Award) to women achievers in various fields in the country. We will hold town hall meetings with five to ten thousand women in 100 cities, so that our grassroots connect with women can be increased. Apart from making inroads among more and more women before the Lok Sabha elections, we also want to increase the participation of women leaders in politics.
(Editing: Shiv Pandey)
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