Why Shivraj Singh Chouhan's Popularity Among Women Voters Of MP Could Be The Deciding Factor In 'Madhya Pradesh 2023'
Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been chief minister for 16 of the last 18 years. Anti-incumbency is natural.
When it comes to women voters however, the anti-incumbency may turn to a legacy of goodwill.
Bhagwati Yadav, in her 60s, is a resident of Bansapur.
"Survey lene aaye ho?", she asked our local guide and driver.
Rahul, not knowing much about what we were exactly there for, nodded his head and told Yadav that we had a few questions to ask about the development in the village and report any problems they faced.
Yadav started describing several aspects of governance under the Shivraj Singh Chouhan administration in her village. Soon enough, her friends and neighbours gathered.
They had a lot to say.
Journey To Budhni
Bansapur is a small hamlet on the outskirts of Budhni — the constituency of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
Chouhan was first elected from Budhni in 1990. In the following year, the Bharatiya Janata Party fielded him as a candidate from the Vidisha Lok Sabha constituency and Chouhan went on to become a five-term MP.
He only returned as the Budhni MLA after a bypoll in 2006, after being appointed chief minister in late 2005.
Since 2006, Budhni has been constantly returning Shivraj as their representative in successive elections.
A couple of hours' drive from Bhopal, the road to Budhni bypasses the Bhimbetka rock shelters — an archaeological site that spans the Paleolithic and the Mesolithic era. Some early traces of human life in the subcontinent can be found here, including some of the fascinating cave paintings.
After a quick pit stop, we passed through the Ratapani jungle, which is famous for being a wildlife sanctuary and tiger reserve.
As we approach Budhni, the arches at the entry of the town signal that you are entering a 'VIP' constituency.
'There was nothing here before'
When we asked our temporary host Bhagwati Yadav and her neighbours for proof of the development in the area, they pointed at the water tank that was constructed for the village.
"Earlier, we had to walk nearly four to five kilometres just to get drinking water for our homes," they said.
"Today, you can see the pakka homes we have. Earlier, almost all of them were kaccha, and some of us even lived in makeshift homes — even tents," they added.
"Yahaan kuch bhi nahi tha pehle (we had nothing before)".
The concrete homes and toilets in the village has been constructed using the funds from Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and the Swacch Bharat Yojana.
A tour of the village suggests that the state administration paid extra attention to the implementation of these programmes in Budhni. Squared yellow boxes on the houses, with details of the schemes, confirmed this.
Bhagwati went on, "My bahu (daughter-in-law) received the benefits from Kanya Vivaah Yojana. I receive the benefits from the sarkar too. We get the ration from the government, and homes, toilets and other benefits provided by the government as well."
Women of Budhni tell Swarajya that the money they receive as a part of the Ladli Behna scheme is solely theirs and no one else's.
"Hum kyon dein unko? Mamaji ne hume diya hain paise," some ascertain. ("Why should we give the money to our husbands? Mamaji (Chouhan) has given us the money. It belongs to us.")
Across an entire day in Budhni, it was rare to speak to someone who referred to Chouhan by his name. All of them referred to him as 'Mamaji'.
A priest at the Hanuman mandir in ward number six said that there were no roads near their gully. The drainage was fixed, roads were built and the government provided the temple authorities with a grant of Rs 4.80 lakh for the renovation of the century-old temple.
At the same time, not everyone was content with their MLA's performance too. This author spoke to the Budhni residents who herd goats and sheep, and they complained about frequent theft of their stock. Drainage was another problem they faced.
Even in 2018, despite the relatively high anti-incumbency, Budhni elected Chouhan to the assembly. And this time around too, the sentiment on the ground seems no different.
Recently, women in the village also received their entitlements for the Ladli Behna Yojana, and are now receiving Rs 1,000 in their bank accounts every month.
There were some though, whose applications did not get through. They say that the local office is helping them file their application again.
According to the women and child development office in Budhni, there are about 10,050 beneficiaries of the Ladli Laxmi Yojana (2007-2022) in the town.
Introduced in 2007, the Ladli Laxmi Yojana was aimed at suppressing female infanticide and encourage a positive mindset among families in the state about the birth and upbringing of the girl child.
Under this programme, the government purchases National Saving Certificates (NSC) worth Rs 6,000 each year, for five years in the name of the approved beneficiary (the girl child). Financial incentives of Rs 2,000 to one lakh rupees would be granted to the girl child as she goes through different stages in life — from graduating her higher secondary education to completing 21 years.
Anecdotal evidence and hard data, both suggest that schemes like the Ladli Laxmi, Ladli Behna and Kanya Vivah are popular among the women of Madhya Pradesh.
Apart from the above, the current administration has announced raising the reservation for women to 35 per cent in government jobs and 50 per cent in teacher recruitment.
Why Women Voters Are Crucial In MP
An analysis of the electoral data from the then undivided state in 1962 projects the women voters turnout at 29.07 per cent — an abysmal number as compared to 74.01 per cent, a record high registered during the 2018 election.
Across 44 seats, during the 2018 state election, women voter turnout was more than 80 per cent.
In 2013, data shows that 46 per cent women voted for the BJP in the state. Moreover, where the women voters were turning up in bigger numbers, the BJP was seen to be performing well, electorally. Female voters comprise 48.20 per cent of Madhya Pradesh's 5.39 crore electorate.
Of the 15 lakh new voters registered, seven lakh are women. According to the Election Commission of India, women outnumber male voters in more than 50 seats, which also include 18 seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribe communities.
Some of these seats have either been Congress strongholds or swing seats where the tribal voter population is significant — Dindori, Mandla, Balaghat (all three affected by LWE violence), Jhabua, Thandla, Sailana to name a few. In some of these constituencies, the rise in women voting percentage has risen by nearly ten percent.
In 2018, the Congress and the BJP had a neck and neck fight with the former winning 114 seats and the latter 109. In many constituencies, parties lost the seat because of a marginal difference of less than 1,000 votes.
As a result, this time the BJP is out to maximise its support base, including among the women voters. In fact, both the parties in the state have offered welfare schemes to garner the support of the women.
And among the women voters, the advantage for now seems to lie with the BJP. A major reason for this is that the Chouhan administration is deemed more trustworthy as a result of its largely successful implementation of many women-centric schemes.
Why Chouhan Is Popular Among Women Voters
During the previous election, the BJP maintained a focus on women empowerment by announcing promises like installing sanitary napkin vending machines in schools and gifting two-wheeler vehicles to girls who score above 75 per cent in their class 12 examination.
This time too the party seems confident of securing the support of women voters.
"Focusing on schemes that empower women in Madhya Pradesh has not only earned us a great amount of goodwill, but will also help us positively with our electoral prospects in the upcoming assembly elections in the state. We hope to regain some of the seats we lost on a narrow margin," says BJP leader and Madhya Pradesh in-charge Muralidhar Rao to Swarajya.
While we were in Bhopal, the landscape was dominated by pink billboards featuring the details of the schemes meant for women and youth of the state.
As a Rakhi gift, an additional amount of Rs 250 was given to women and gas cylinders were being offered at Rs 450, effectively aiming to neutralise the freebies announced by the Kamal Nath-led Congress campaign in the state.
Chouhan's close associates, while discussing his administration's performance, tell Swarajya that the incumbent CM realised that an average family finds it difficult to fund their child's education and get them married. If their basic necessities are taken care of, a family can focus on other things.
Most analysts are of the view that the Madhya Pradesh 2023 election will be a closely contested affair. In a tight contest, it might just be the goodwill he carries among the women voters that sees Shivraj Singh Chouhan through.
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