Strike force: how women are leading the battle for #UP2017
The electoral battle for Uttar Pradesh is shaping up interestingly: all major players are banking on women leaders to prevail. It couldn't be more ironic: no party is likely to field 33% women candidates.
Leading the way is Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati. The BSP has long used the powerful symbolism of a poor Dalit woman, Mayawati, rising to be one of the most influential leaders in the country in its campaigns. The party isn't likely to be letting up on this message.
Competing with Mayawati for the affections of women voters will be Smriti Irani. The HRD minister is set to play a key role in the BJP's campaign, even though the BJP leaders have so far denied the possibility of her projection as the chief ministerial candidate.
Irani has the oratory skills, if not the appeal, to match Mayawati's. On the other front, she could be deployed to counter the star power of the Congress' woman campaigners - Sonia Gandhi, Rita Bahuguna, and possibly Priyanka Vadra.
That Irani is not new to UP's politics only helps. She was the BJP's nominee against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi for the 2014 parliamentary election. She put up a good fight against the Congress Vice President, and promised to remain in touch with the people of the constituency despite her defeat.
She has kept her word, regularly attending political and social programmes in the area, and using the platforms such events offer to attack the Gandhis. That she's astute, and speaks the language of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah makes her a much-valued campaigner for the BJP.
The Congress, on its part, could deploy Priyanka to negate Irani. Although Priyanka has so far restricted her political activism to Rae Bareli and Amethi, the parliamentary constituencies, respectively, of her brother and mother, she could be assigned a wider responsibility in the forthcoming elections. There are indications from the Congress that she would play a more visible role in both election strategy and campaigning.
As for the ruling Samajwadi Party, the leadership is exploring the possibility of projecting Dimple Yadav "in a big way". Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav's wife is currently the MP from Kannauj. The SP is also mulling over fielding the other daughters-in-law of Mulayam's clan.
Outside of its first family, the SP recently roped in Allahabad University Students Union president Richa Singh. She could be a strong candidate for the party, given that she earned her fame by taking on no less a rabble-rouser than the BJP's Yogi Adityanath, whom she successfully stopped from setting foot on the Allahabad University campus. The SP believes Richa would win it minority votes.
Apart from their political appeal, the key motivation for deploying woman leaders at the vanguard in UP is this: woman voters played a crucial role in Nitish Kumar's spectacular victory in Bihar last year. Not surprisingly, all parties want to be seen as women-friendly. Let's hope this emphasis on "woman power" proves more than mere tokenism.
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