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Women voters weigh options despite welfare deluge in poll-bound Rajasthan

Gehlot’s outreach to women is crucial as 2.51 crore women voters are eligible to vote in 2023.
Last Updated : 13 October 2023, 14:06 IST
Last Updated : 13 October 2023, 14:06 IST

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Jaipur: Savita Yadav, 65, is elated with her smartphone. She lives in a basti colony beyond Jaipur’s posh Jawahar Nagar colony. Having worked as a domestic help for years, she never bought anything for her own pleasure. Widowed at an early age, all her expenses were on bringing up her three children. Now she stays home, her grown-up sons do not let her work. Yet they never thought of buying her a phone, even for emergency purposes. “But Ashok Gehlot did,” says Savita, who is one of the 1.33 crore women, who are slated to receive the smartphones.

The Gehlot government had said the Rs 12,000 crore initiative, ‘Indira Gandhi Free Smartphone Yojana, 2023’, was a way to empower women, especially widowed, single women and students. The Opposition, however, slammed the government for distributing freebies, straining the state’s finances and wooing women voters.

Gehlot’s outreach to women is crucial as 2.51 crore women voters are eligible to vote in 2023. According to Election Commission data, the percentage of women voters stood at 64.21 per cent in 2003 and it had gone up to 74.67 per cent in 2018, marking a 10 per cent jump. During the same period, the percentage of male voters increased by only 4.85 per cent, from 69.90 per cent in 2008 to 74.75 per cent in 2018.

Gehlot has tried to curry favour among this chunk of voters via various means, including offering cheap health insurance cover of Rs 25 lakh under the Chiranjeevi Swasthya Bima Yojana to over 1.44 crore families. Additionally, he has offered subsidised gas cylinders at Rs 500 to around 76 lakh beneficiaries, Annapurna food packets to 1.04 crore beneficiaries as part of a Rs 19,000 crore inflation relief package. 100 units of free domestic electricity, 100 days of guaranteed employment under the Indira Gandhi Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme, and a 50 per cent concession in fares for all categories of roadways buses. He has further approved a 90 per cent concession proposal in bus fares.

Radhika Barman, 35, whose son had a major road accident recently, got him treated free under the Chiranjeevi Yojana in the state’s largest government hospital, Sawai Man Singh Hospital. “We just had to pay for the medicines. So many guarantee cards, I get confused sometimes. I have the Bhamashah Card too made during Vasundhara Raje’s time. But it has no use now. We understand that welfare schemes do not outlive the government of the day,” she told DH.

Bhamashah Card was launched by former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje in 2014 to empower women through financial inclusion and direct cash transfers to the women beneficiaries' bank accounts.

Raje had also launched the Bhamashah Digital Parivar in 2018 wherein one-crore Bhamashah card holders were to get Rs 1,000 aid to buy smartphones, which could also keep track of welfare scheme benefits. These schemes were launched following her stupendous victory in 2013, when she won 163 seats. The women voting percentage was more at 75.51 per cent as compared to men, which stood at 74.91 per cent, leading to the conclusion that women may have overwhelmingly voted for Raje.

Despite such progressive schemes, Raje had to face defeat in 2018.

“Both BJP and Congress now acknowledge the needs of the female voters, they recognise that top-down measures are essential to reinforce bottom-up forces to get women on an equal standing with the men in a largely male-centric society. That is why you have a plethora of schemes,” Kavita Srivastava, general secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, told DH.

She added, “Many of Gehlot’s schemes like the Udayan sanitary napkin scheme, the Mahila Suraksha and Salah Kendras (MSSK) and the smartphone schemes are steps forward. The MSSK have put in a mechanism where a rape survivor can approach the SP office directly and lodge a FIR. Earlier the SP office would only receive the complaint. The Rajasthan Old Age Pension Scheme for senior citizens, especially old women and the 125 days in MNREGA will definitely add to the common man’s right to live with dignity. But many of the schemes have been announced too late and cannot be implemented. Even the Right to Health rules' have not been framed yet.”

While political parties make attempts to realise women's rights at every level, there is still very little political representation of women in the state. The present Assembly has only 27 women legislators out of a total of 200, accounting for only 13 per cent. And three women ministers, Mamata Bhupesh, Shakuntala Rawat and Zahida Khan have been given ministries like Women and Child Welfare, Devasthan and Science and Technology respectively.

On the poll prospects of the parties, Sunita Singh, a nurse in a private hospital, said, “All parties offer freebies, want to empower us as they know our vote counts. But that is only before election time. What do they do in their initial years. That is something which we need to debate.”

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Published 13 October 2023, 14:06 IST

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