Political parties have released their election manifestos in Uttar Pradesh just before the first phase of polling on 10th February in western Uttar Pradesh except BSP which as usual kept itself away from it. Manifesto a much-awaited electoral document is supposed to be released by political parties, where they declare their roadmap for the next five years and on the basis of which people are supposed to evaluate and vote for them.
Contrary to the word of mouth, election manifestoes are published documents comprising declarations of the intentions, ideology, policies and programmes of the party. Through manifestos political parties try to inspire voters with rhetoric. They are generally drafted by the political parties while keeping an eye on forthcoming elections in mind. However, we do not have concrete data to evaluate as how much impact it has among voters.
This time also political parties in Uttar Pradesh have announced a number of schemes in their manifestoes such as loan waver, free fertilizers, free electricity to farmers as well as domestic consumers, employment generation for youths, safe and better conditions for small and medium- class businessmen, urban job scheme along the lines of MGNREGA, revival of the old pension scheme, free ration and food, free petrol-diesel and gas cylinders, better health facilities, free education etc. None of them have a roadmap from where they will mobilize the resources to fulfill those promises and in absence of which it looks merely rhetoric.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi announced that her party will give 40 per cent seats to women candidates and already distributed them tickets for the forthcoming U.P. election. She also announced plethora of schemes for women voters like free scooty and smartphone to school-going girls once they pass class 12 to 25 percent reservation for them in police department. While going one step ahead, Samajwadi party declared free education for girls up to post-graduation level and electric scooters to all frontline women workers. It has also promised 36000 rupees to girls after passing class 12th, 33 per cent reservation for women in the police force and other government services, better posting-options to women employees, special recruitment drive for women in police force, 1, 50,000 rupees for every BPL women after delivery etc. Among these parties, RLD was the first party to release its manifesto and apart from many other promises, it assured 50% quota for women in jobs and promotions.
The ruling Bhartiya Janta Party was not much behind either as it has already initiated many welfare schemes especially meant for women voters and trying to capitalize on it in the ongoing election like toilets, Ujjawala scheme and so on. In this year poll manifesto it has made series of promises to attract women voters to its side by making various announcements like 1 lakh rupees for the marriage of girls of BPL families, 2 free cylinders on the occasion of Holi and Diwali, free travel facilities for the women above 60 years, pink toilets in public places, 5 lakh new women self-help groups etc. It has also promised Rs.1500 pension to widows and destitute women and free scooty to meritorious girls.
The best thing about all these tall promises is that in a state where politics is centered around identity issues like caste, creed and religion, the major focus on women in manifestos of all political parties is a good sign. Parties have at least women-specific sections in their manifestos. It may be due to growing consciousness/participation among women voters in the state. In the last three assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, women voting percentage has not only increased but they have outnumbered men voters in the 2012 as well as 2017 assembly elections. In a state where primordial identities in combination with patriarchal set up determine social position/status, carving out independent identity for themselves remains a daunting task for women voters. They are trying to break it through their active participation. However, a perception prevails that women are not independent voters and they usually cast their votes according to the decisions of male family members.
A study done by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in this regard revealed that fairly large percentage of women voters in Uttar Pradesh are making independent choices so far voting is concerned, although they are less likely to do so compared to men. This is certainly a good sign for Indian democracy as women voters have emerged as a vote bloc.
Proportion of voters in UP who decided their vote independently without going by someone’s advice
2017 2012 2007
Men - 71% 74% 72%
Women- 54% 56% 48%
Overall- 63% 67% 63%
Source: Lokniti- CSDS Post Poll Surveys in Uttar Pradesh during Assembly elections Question asked: In deciding whom to vote for did you take anyone's advice?
Note: Those who did not respond to the questions have been excluded from analysis
The most interesting part of the manifestos of different political parties in Uttar Pradesh this time is their women-centric agenda and can be described as welcome initiative, especially in Uttar Pradesh where they are at receiving end since independence. This can be proved through some statistics. Maternal health is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Uttar Pradesh. However, the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) has remained disproportionately high, at 359 per 100,000 live births, which is 1.69 times the MMR of 212 for India as a whole. Similarly, as per the NFHS-5, 50.4 per cent of women in the reproductive age group (15-49 years) in U P have anemia. Even South Sudan is better than Uttar Pradesh as it had 35.6 per cent anemic women in 2019 within the reproductive age group.
Above statistics reveals that condition of women in Uttar Pradesh is a matter of concern. Therefore, half of the population comprising women needs urgent attention. Unfortunately, electoral discourse has hardly any mention of these facts and even opposition parties rarely make it an issue during election thereby giving a walkover to the ruling dispensation. Despite poor health and other indicators against women, it has hardly been priority for political parties.
However, in the allotment of tickets, except Congress party, BJP, SP-RLD, and BSP have not given adequate number of tickets to women. This reflects that on the one hand, women voters have outnumbered men in the election since 2012 and on the other hand, political parties are still not relying on them while granting tickets. For example, in Uttar Pradesh, at present there are only 43 women MLAs in a 403 member’s house and none of them have been made cabinet ministers. It reflects that women are still not getting their long overdue share in key decision-making bodies. The silver lining can be drawn that at least the government has initiated several women-centric schemes and political parties have gradually started recognizing the importance of women in electoral politics but still parties look at women as voters only and they are still reluctant in giving tickets to women.
It is high time that political parties should not only make women-centric issues as part of their manifestos rather they should be made part of the decision making and for this to happen all political parties be it regional or national should distribute tickets to them generously. Congress party in Uttar Pradesh has definitely tried to alter the prevailing narrative by distributing 40 per cent tickets to women. It may not change the rules of the game overnight but definitely, it may have an impact in the long run. In order to make it happen, all political parties should come together and give fair representation to women in ticket distribution in order to make our polity truly inclusive, participatory, democratic, and responsive.
#Dr. Shashikant Pandey Professor &Head
Dept. of Political Science
B.B. Ambedkar University, Lucknow