After the Pulwama terror attacks, I met family members of the three veers from Dehradun. In the following days I saw women in different parts of Dehradun coming out of homes in solidarity for the veers. Their slogans and words were bitter, angry and about the "maan samman" of the nation. Then Balkot happened.
Between Delhi, Dehradun, UP, Rajasthan, between February and May, I noticed that on ground the phrase "maan samman" - honour - had acquired a strong association with Modi and was not restricted to Uttarakhand. What stunned me was that "maan samman" was used only by women among the voters I met. There was no parcha or template handed out to them. They were scattered and from different backgrounds. Yet it was in a flow.
When they were mentioning Balkot they would mention "maan samman". When they mention Modi they mention "maan samman". When they mention Swachh Bharat and toilets and gas cylinders they mention "maan samman". Their support for Modi was backed by a strong sense of dignity and emotion.
Women and their emotion are Modi's silent weaponry. In Uttarakhand's Pauri Garhwal constituency, a bunch of young BJP supporters told me that women in their families feel that Modi works like pahadi women. I had not heard something like this before. In Rajsamand, women surrounded me with passionate accounts of "Kitna kiya hai Modi ne". In Haridwar I met women devotees and safai karamcharis at the Ganga ghats. They said that they bless Modi for his work.
Some of Modi's schemes and policies were meant to engage and impact women. They have rebooted his politics. Swachh Bharat Mission got a heartfelt mention among his schemes wherever I went. Jan Dhan Yojana has pushed the image of a ‘thinking PM’ into caste crevices. Gareebon ki sochte hain Modi - they say. They have praised One Rank One Pension, Ujjwala Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Aawaas Yojana. They mention Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana fondly. In Uttarakhand - steps being taken towards the curbing of palayan - or out migration, and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya-Grameen Kaushalya Yojana were mentioned by women.
I noticed that women view Modi as a workaholic head of worthy representatives. In UP, women said that the Modi-Yogi team was another reason for supporting BJP. In Nagina they talked about Sushma Swaraj's work. Vasundhara Raje is out of power but many women I met in Rajsamand remember her for her good work and policies. This year in Uttarakhand and in Maharashtra and MP in 2018, I met some women who were attributing the good work done by the state governments and CMs to Modi.
Modi has mastered the art of symbolism - and uses oodles of it in politics. On ground, Modi's visits to Kedarnath and his quiet appearance in black at the Kumbh snaan right before Balkot made an impact on women voters. In his speeches, he never forgets to say his pranams to the devis and the holy rivers - whether in Assam, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat. His Dehradun speech happened during Navratras. Here, he paid homage to Durga and mothers of veer sainiks in the same breath. He bowed down to Diya Kumari in the Udaipur rally. In MP, in his last speech for 2019, he paid homage to Devi Ahilyabai. These are strong social messages in the local context. They speak to women. This symbolism made way for emotion and emotion for vote.
But what about women leaders against Modi?
Challenging him on the regional turf were some strong women leaders. He made it difficult for them to emerge as change makers for their own gender. During the campaign not much was heard from these leaders on what they would actually do for women. None of these women leaders could make room for herself in Modi's gender dominated narrative. One big reason: Modi's pointed policies and programmes. Through his work, and words, Modi hasn't left space for these women leaders to emerge as preeminent representatives of women empowerment.
The more Modi is cornered by his opponents on women in his personal life, including his mother, the more Modi himself says he is detached from family, more furiously his nationwide family of women becomes wider, stronger, mightier. We would like to bring you more from this family in the coming months. So watch this space. And do like, share, and subscribe.
Read Sumati Mehrishi’s report: ‘Vishwas Ki Dor’: How Women Shaped Gender Bender Modi’s Unprecedented Victory In 2019
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