Promises galore in poll-bound Himachal Pradesh
Considering the fact that women account for nearly half (49 per cent) of the population of the hill state, the principal rivals have gone out of the way to impress them this time. The thrust of parties on women is rooted in the fact that the women voters in Himachal Pradesh have been outnumbering men in all elections since 1998. Also, out of 55,74,793 voters, 28,46,201 are men and 27,28,555 women.
Come elections, political parties will vie with each other in wooing voters, even if it means promising the moon. This time too it's no different in poll-bound Himachal Pradesh.
While announcing various sops to lure the electorate, the BJP and the Congress are raking up issues related to women.
Religion too forms the core of the poll manifestos of the two parties as they prepare for the battle of ballots on November 12.
Considering the fact that women account for nearly half (49 per cent) of the population of the hill state, the principal rivals have gone out of the way to impress them this time.
The thrust of parties on women is rooted in the fact that the women voters in Himachal Pradesh have been outnumbering men in all elections since 1998. Also, out of 55,74,793 voters, 28,46,201 are men and 27,28,555 women.
While the Congress has unveiled the "Har Ghar Lakshmi, Nari Samman Nidhi" promising Rs 1,500 per month to adult women besides 300 units of free power, which too would potentially ease the living of women, the BJP launched a dedicated manifesto for the female voters calling the document "Stree Sankalp Patra".
The BJP manifesto for women promises bicycles for school-goers, scooties for college students and enhanced 'shagun', which includes monetary assistance, for the marriage of girls from BPL families.
"Stree Shakti Sankalp" also ambitiously offers 33 per cent reservation to women in government jobs and educational institutions.
A corpus fund of Rs 500 crores for interest-free loans to women entrepreneurs will be set up for homestays and financial support for the marriage of girls belonging to below-poverty-line families will be raised from Rs 31,000 to Rs 51,000 under the ongoing "Mukhmantri Shagun Yojna".
Another thrust area of the manifestos of both parties is religion, with the BJP promising a "Him Teerath" circuit to link major temples and Shakti Peeths by launching 45 special buses from New Delhi, Jaipur, Chandigarh, Meerut and Mathura.
The Congress has for the first time included a stand-alone segment in its manifesto on "Devsthan and Tirth Yatras" (temples and pilgrimages). The segment promised to pay for a free pilgrimage of all elderly (accompanied by one attendant) to a shrine of choice, doubling the annual contribution to state-supported temples and double emoluments to temple priests.
The BJP also promised to implement the Uniform Civil Code and survey Waqf properties to end alleged illegalities therein. Making a religion-centric pledge in its poll manifesto, the Congress promised to develop tourism circuits to strengthen religious tourism and a special budget for the restoration and modernization of temples.
The BJP manifesto seeks to woo the segment with several promises ranging from three free LPG cylinders to women of poor households, enrolment of all women over 30 years from poor families under the Atal Pension Scheme and two hostels per district. It promised Rs 2,500 monthly scholarship for 50,000 meritorious female students of government schools during the course of graduation, among many pledges.
The pro-women push of the BJP comes close on the heels of the party's historic win in Uttar Pradesh, where the silent women voters were seen as a decisive factor behind the party's re-election, a first for any incumbent government in 37 years. The BJP clocked a lead of 16 per cent among women voters over its rival SP-led alliance in UP, thanks to measures like free grains, cooking gas connections and toilets that have drawn favourable responses for the BJP in different polls.
Seeking to take the wind out of the BJP's sails, the Congress has hit out at the ruling BJP over its Himachal Pradesh poll manifesto, terming it a "cut-copy-paste" of their five-year-old promises and in parts borrowed from the grand old party's 2022 election document. The Congress also said that the BJP's manifesto has not uttered a word about the old pension scheme, restoring which has been a key demand of government employees.
(Subhashis Mittra is a New Delhi-based senior journalist, freelance writer, political commentator and public policy analyst.)