Delhi polls: Parties woo women like never before

By Gaurav Sharma,

New Delhi : Women in Delhi are being wooed by political parties like never before, with their safety becoming an important issue in the assembly polls expected next month.

Support TwoCircles

Of Delhi’s 13 million voters, women account for 44.51 percent – the lowest proportion of female voters across the country, according to the Election Commission.

However, their voting percentage has been rising and has gone up from 46.41 percent in the 1998 assembly polls to over 65 percent in 2013.

Issues like women’s security have become important for all political parties and the three main political players in the national capital – the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress – are going the extra mile to show their sensitivity on issues concerning women.

Leaders from the three parties, as also women activists, say that issues concerning women, particularly their safety and education, have moved away from the periphery and are now part of the main political discourse.

They say that more and more female voters are taking interest in politics and are making their own choices in casting their ballots, irrespective of the thinking of their family members.

In Delhi, the issue of women’s security has added significance in view of the increasing incidents of crime against them. The grisly gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapist in Dec 2013 had forced the people to come out on the streets.

The city reported 1,441 rapes in 2013, according to National Crime Record Bureau data.

The AAP and the BJP – considered the main contenders in the upcoming polls – are holding a series of meetings to finalise their vision for the capital’s 5.8 million women.

The AAP appears to have taken a lead by conducting a dialogue with women last November which, the party says, was preceded by some 300 meetings spread across all of Delhi’s 70 assembly constituencies.

Among the promises made by the AAP, which finished a close second to the BJP in the 2013 assembly polls, were 200,000 public toilets for women, 100 new courts to fast-track rape cases and Wi-Fi connected CCTV cameras.

“Our party is taking women voters seriously as they have emerged as a new bloc, especially after the Nirbhaya (2013) incident,” prominnet AAP woman leader Atishi Marlena told IANS.

She admitted that the AAP, which was born in 2013 from an anti-corruption movement, did not initially have a comprehensive roadmap for women.

“Corruption was our main plank. But we cannot ignore women voters now as they vote independently,” Marlena added.

The BJP, which is hard-selling the development model of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come to power in Delhi, has conducted a survey on women’s safety.

“We gave a small questionnaire to 3,000 women, asking them about their problems and how we can address them. We have collected six most common suggestions to improve their safety which will be taken into account while preparing the party’s manifesto,” Kamaljeet Sehrawat, president of the Delhi BJP’s Mahila Morcha, told IANS.

“We have divided women into nine categories such as working women, college students and housewives so that we can understand their specific problems and address them after coming to power,” Sherawat added.

Delhi’s former mayor and BJP leader Aarti Mehra termed the scenario a “welcome change.”

“Women voters cannot be ignored the way they have been ignored earlier. Women’s issues were not given much importance earlier. Price rise, corruption, housing for poor and subsidies were the issues on which parties fought the polls,” Mehra said.

Interestingly, more women cast their votes compared to men in 10 of 70 assembly segments in the last polls.

Former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, who was in office for 15 years, said that women have always been important for the Congress.

“The Congress has never undermined the importance of women voters,” Dikshit told IANS. “However, they have become much more aware socially and politically which is a good sign,” she added.

Women’s rights activist Ranjana Kumari said political parties are going the extra mile to woo women because they are increasingly exercising their franchise independently and in larger numbers.

“The issue of social security has become very important, especially in Delhi, where incidents of rapes have doubled since the Nirbhaya gangrape,” Ranjana Kumari, who heads NGO Centre for Social Research, told IANS.

She however said that there was a need for parties to fulfill the promises they make on issues concerning women if they come to power.

(Gaurav Sharma can be contacted at [email protected] )