UP: Priyanka's Gendered Approach
India Today|January 31, 2022
The Congress is nowhere in the contest in up. But at a time when caste is the leitmotif, it makes a virtue out of adversity: feminising politics with 40 per cent seats to women
Prashant Srivastava

IT’S NEVER A GOOD IDEA TO prejudge an electoral contest. But to the naked eye, there appear only two players in the game: the ruling BJP, and a newly energised Samajwadi Party. Most smaller pieces on the chessboard cohere around these two—a bipolarity that apparently leaves no great room even for Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party. Where does that leave the Congress, out of the reckoning in Uttar Pradesh for over three decades? Well, Priyanka Gandhi, helming the Grand Old Party’s desperate search for relevance, has chosen to try and extract virtue out of adversity by sowing a new crop in this tired, old soil.

At a time when everyone is talking caste, she’s seeking to get the debate to pivot on another axis altogether: gender. A full 40 per cent of the party’s candidates in UP will be women. Quite a bold figure—by comparison, even the demand for one-third seats made in the ill-fated Women’s Reservation Bill seems modest. An attempt to feminise Indian politics on such a scale is a strikingly novel manoeuvre. The AICC general secretary in charge of UP, still only learning to swim in the deep, can’t be faulted for her math. Women make up over 46 per cent of the population in UP. Can they be persuaded to vote as women? Over and above conflicting loyalties such as religion, caste and ideology?

This season’s harvest may doubtless be slim, but Priyanka has sallied forth on the conviction that these are good questions to ask for the future (see interview). The logic is impeccable. Parties have often tapped into this demographic—but only via tactically designed handout politics, “pro-women” policies like prohibition, or plain tokenism. No one has much talked the language of direct empowerment.

That’s the catchword in Priyanka’s lexicon. To be sure, there’s room for it. Quite a few of India’s women politicians inherit politics—Priyanka herself, for one. Many of those not born into it are married into it. And then there are celebrity faces in all parties. By contrast, the 50 women in the Congress’s first list of 125 candidates include a rape victim’s mother, an activist who was jailed for some three weeks during the antiCAA agitation, an ASHA worker who led an agitation for a raise in honorarium for her vastly underpaid sorority, and a district-level leader who was sexually assaulted during local elections. Remember the names, one might say for effect: Asha Singh from Unnao, Lucknow’s Sadaf Jafar, Poonam Pandey from Shahjahanpur and Ritu Singh from Lakhimpur Kheri, in that order. Real women, daughters of the earth who have held up half the sky in a violent society. They join others like news anchor Nida Ahmad, Meerut-born actress Archana Gautam and the party’s own flock: Pankhuri Pathak, vice-chairperson (social media) and Mahila Congress leaders Mamata Chaudhary, Shamina Shafique and Shehla Arhari.

The Congress has also released a separate manifesto for women, promising 40 per cent reservation for women in government jobs, besides freebies for girl students, a tactic everyone from Bihar CM Nitish Kumar onwards has employed with success. Just upgrade from a free cycle to a free scooty, and a mobile phone, itself a marker of freedom for young women in rural India.

That’s a lot of virtue-signalling, but what purchase will it have in cynical, hard-bitten UP? “We have only one MP and seven MLAs here. We can only gain, there’s nothing to lose,” says a senior Congress leader. “Our vote share in 2017 was only 6.25 per cent. Now we have created a parallel narrative around ‘aadhi aabadi’—half the population. If we succeed even partially in attracting them, we would have established ourselves in almost every assembly constituency, something we have not done in years.” Says a key member of Priyanka’s team, “We have divided UP’s 403 seats into three categories—‘A’ is where we have sitting MLAs or which we won either in 2012 or 2007; ‘B’ is all the seats where we were runners-up in 2017 and 2012; and in ‘C’, we put the rest of the seats where we can give tickets to freshers/ beginners. We are not cancelling tickets for any deserving male candidate just to accommodate women.”

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM INDIA TODAYView All

Tomas Cup - How India Made History

The Indian Men’s Badminton Team Won Glory By Clinching The Thomas Cup For The First Time. What Went Into The Big Win And Where Do We Go From Here?

7 mins read
India Today
May 30, 2022

Cryptos On A Crash Course

Cryptocurrencies have been tumbling worldwide as the Ukraine war prolongs and the spectre of still higher crude prices and inflation haunts countries.

3 mins read
India Today
May 30, 2022

YOGI'S NEW NEUTRAL AVATAR

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath is into his second term and one of the changes he is ringing in is a softening of the ardent Hindutva warrior image that he has been cultivating all these years.

5 mins read
India Today
May 30, 2022

Why Marital Rape Qualifies as Rape

In the second week of May, the Delhi High Court passed a split verdict on the issue of whether the marital rape exception engrafted in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was constitutional or not.

4 mins read
India Today
May 30, 2022

WHY JUDICIAL APPOINTMENTS ARE DELAYED

Tardiness driven by a tangle involving collegiums and the Centre characterises the filling up of vacant positions of high court judges. And pending cases pile up inexorably

10+ mins read
India Today
May 30, 2022

WHAT ‘IS' INDIAN POETRY?

A milestone and a doorstopper, this ambitious anthology brings together 94 poets whom India can claim as its own

4 mins read
India Today
May 30, 2022

THE CASTE CALCULUS

A NEW MOON BECKONS? CM Nitish and RJD's Tejashwi at the latter's iftar party in Patna, April 22

3 mins read
India Today
May 30, 2022

SORENS IN A MINEFIELD

Jharkhand chief minister Hem­ ant Soren has some real fire­ fighting to do in the coming days if he wants to continue in his post. Everything seems to be going wrong at once.

5 mins read
India Today
May 30, 2022

Q+A IN ON THE ACT

One of Indian fashion's brightest stars, Masaba Gupta, 33, is living her childhood dream of acting. This time, she has a part in the Amazon Prime anthology Modern Love: Mumbai

1 min read
India Today
May 30, 2022

NEW RESOLUTION, OLD CONGRESS

On May 16, a day after the Congress ended its three-day-long Nav Sankalp Shivir in Udaipur, the party witnessed a formal gesture.

5 mins read
India Today
May 30, 2022
RELATED STORIES

CRYPTO COMES TO WASHINGTON. WILL THE MILLIONS BUY INFLUENCE?

Erin Houchin braced for the worst when a mysterious, well-financed group started buying television ads last month in her highly competitive southern Indiana congressional race.

7 mins read
Techlife News
May 14, 2022

OUR ABORTION STORIES

With abortion rights under attack, ELLE brought together five members of Congress perhaps most qualified to discuss the issue— because they’ve been there themselves.

10 mins read
ELLE
May 2022

WHITE HOUSE SEEKS MORE POWER TO COUNTER USE OF DRONES IN US

The Biden administration is calling on Congress to expand authority for federal and local governments to take action to counter the nefarious use in the U.S. of drones, which are becoming a growing security concern and nuisance.

2 mins read
AppleMagazine
April 29, 2022

IN AMERICA, A FEW DAYS IN MARCH 2020 ECHO TWO YEARS LATER

The conversations went like this: It will be just a few days. It can be kept at bay. There will be some inconvenience, sure, but the world will merely be paused — just a short break, out of an abundance of caution, and certainly not any kind of major grinding to a halt. Certainly not for two years.

4 mins read
AppleMagazine
March 18, 2022

FED TO ACCELERATE WITHDRAWAL OF ECONOMIC AID AS PRICES SURGE

Under Chair Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve is poised this week to execute a sharp turn toward tighter interest-rate policies with inflation accelerating and unemployment falling faster than expected.

4 mins read
Techlife News
Techlife News #529

Lower Taxes on Your RMDs

When you turn 72, you’ll have to start taking minimum distributions from your IRA and 401(k). These strategies will help trim Uncle Sam’s take.

9 mins read
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
January 2022

Congress Just Can't Quit Facebook

Lawmakers of both parties assail the tech giant but are hooked on its core product

6 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
November 15, 2021

More Debt Ceiling Drama

The national pastime is back, but this time Democrats can finally break the cycle

6 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
September 27, 2021

The National Interest: Jonathan Chait

Biden’s Everything Bill The sweeping $3.5 trillion package is so big it might paradoxically be passable.

6 mins read
New York magazine
July 19 - August 1, 2021

Go Big or Go Home

Joe Biden tackled Covid and an economic crisis in his first 100 days. It won’t get easier from herea

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 26 - May 03, 2021 (Double Issue)