Women in Chhattisgarh helped sway poll mandate from BJP to Congress; anger palpable in seats when fewer men voted
Of the 21 constituencies in Chhattisgarh where more women voted than men, the Congress won 17 seats, while the BJP bagged only two and the other two went to the BSP and JCC.
Raipur: As political pundits and journalists analyse the Chhattisgarh election results, where the Congress won a two-thirds majority in the Assembly, one trend has become clear — a large group of women in the state voted against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Polling data shows that of the 21 constituencies where more women voted than men, the Congress won 17 seats, while the BJP bagged only two and the other two went to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC).
Most of the big players in the fray were thrashed by the mandate, including eight of 12 state cabinet ministers, in addition to the Assembly Speaker. Even though former chief minister Raman Singh saved his seat, his victory margin was nearly halved as compared to the 2013 elections, when he had won by a margin of over 35,000 votes.
Of the 90 seats in the Chhattisgarh Assembly, the Congress won 68 seats, leaving only 15 constituencies for the outgoing BJP government and the rest for other parties. Even in these 15 seats, reports suggest that the BJP won only because there was a division of votes by the BSP-JCC coalition.
Promises on paddy, alcohol drew women
The unprecedented Congress comeback in Chhattisgarh was due to the strong wave of anger against the BJP government in rural and semi-urban parts of the state. Farmers' woes, a ban on liquor and unemployment among youth were some of the main poll issues in focus this election.
During his election campaign, Congress president Rahul Gandhi had promised to waive off farmers' loans within 10 days of forming the government voted to power. The party had also promised to raise the Minimum Support Price for paddy to Rs 2,500 per quintal from Rs 1,750.
This gave hope to women who do the boai (seeding), ropai (planting), katai (harvesting) and dhoai (carrying) of the crop — the main activities involved in paddy farming. The women of Chhattisgarh also manage and preserve the seeds. Despite this, they are denied access to agricultural resources, technical knowledge and support services like credit, extension services and training.
The other factor why women voters gravitated towards the Congress was the party's support towards the prohibition of liquor in its manifesto. In 2013, the BJP had made a poll promise to implement a liquor ban in the state, but it failed to make any concrete decisions on this matter. This may be attributed to the fact that income from liquor jumped in Chhattisgarh from Rs 32.61 crore in 2001-02 to Rs 3,347.54 crore in the 2016-17 fiscal. The revenue from liquor sales rose steadily from nearly Rs 1,000 crore in 2011-12 to Rs 1,400 crore in 2012-13 and Rs 1,900 crore in 2013-14.
In 2017, the Chhattisgarh Excise (Amendment) Ordinance was brought up during the Budget Session of the Assembly to create a corporation to facilitate the sale of both foreign and Indian-made liquor through government outlets. The Raman Singh-led state government then began to set up shops to sell liquor in villages. In 2017-18, revenue from alcohol sales is expected to cross Rs 4,000 crore, a former excise minister said, soon after the government opened outlets and started selling liquor.
A little over a year after the decision led to an outcry, the Chhattisgarh government began to deliberate over implementing a stringent prohibition, studying other states like Bihar that had enforced a ban on alcohol. Criticising this flip-flop, Congress MLA Satyanarayan Sharma had said, "On one hand, the BJP government has decided to sell liquor through its own outlets, and on the other, it is supporting the anti-liquor campaign run by women's groups."
Women were disgruntled with the BJP as the party had failed to listen to their woes and fulfil its prohibition promise. Nischay Vajpayee of the Sharab Bandi Sanyukt Morcha, a movement against liquor in Chhattisgarh, said women had shown their anger towards the BJP through the ballot. "The Constitution says that a welfare government has to move towards a liquor ban. Even masses want the liquor ban, but the government's decision to sell liquor by making a corporation was against the feeling of the Constitution and people," he said.
Increasing household costs
The third factor that may have played a role in swaying the minds of the female voter-base was household issues. The BJP government's much-touted Ujjwala scheme to provide free LPG connections did not do much for voters as the cost to refill LPG cylinders was raised to Rs 1,000. As a result, despite the government-sponsored distribution of gas stoves, the high refill rate made it difficult for poor and lower middle-class families to use these gas stoves. The rising prices of daily-use commodities also affected the women of the households.
The highest turnout of female voters (86.88 percent) was reported from Chhattisgarh's Kharsia constituency this time, where former IAS officer and award-winning bureaucrat OP Choudhary made his poll debut on a BJP ticket, but he lost to sitting Congress legislator Umesh Patel by a margin of 16,967 votes.
Dharamjaigarh constituency — reserved for a candidate from a Scheduled Tribe — recorded the second-highest turnout of women voters (85.91 percent). It also saw a Congress victory, where Laljeet Singh Rathia defeated the BJP's Leenav Birju Rathia by a huge margin of 40,335 votes.
Th author is a freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com
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