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Nitish showers sops on women as he woos his key vote bank ahead of Bihar polls

The Bihar CM Friday unveiled Seven Resolves Part 2, saying if voted to power again, he will ensure representation of women in administration — right from the block to the state level.

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Patna: When Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar unveiled his ‘Seven Resolves Part 2’ for the upcoming state elections Friday, he reasserted the importance of women voters. 

Women, constituting around 47 per cent of the votes in Bihar, have played a crucial role in his continuous victories after 2005. They have often been hailed as the ‘silent force’ behind Nitish’s consecutive electoral victories.

The state will vote in three phaseson 28 October, 3 November and 7 November.

One of the elements in Nitish’s ‘Seven Resolves Part 2’ is ‘Sashakt Mahila, Saksham Mahila’ (empowered women, able women). 

“Without empowering women there can be no development,” Nitish said Friday, promising financial doles for women entrepreneurs — Rs 5 lakh as grant and Rs 5 lakh as loan if they start a new venture.

The chief minister also hiked the government’s grant for Class 12 unmarried girl students from Rs 12,000 to Rs 25,000, and for graduates (including married ones) from Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000. 

The doles, he said, will be for all women irrespective of caste or community. 

Nitish also mentioned the 50 per cent reservation for women in government jobs, which he announced in 2016.

“Giving them jobs is not enough. If voted to power again, I will ensure representation of women in administration — right from the block to the state level,” he added.

Such aggressive wooing of women voters by Nitish comes from their increased participation in successive Bihar elections.

Until 2000, there used to be a 20 per cent gender gap in voting, with women voters mostly staying away from exercising their franchise. But from 2010, women have increasingly turned out in large numbers to vote. 

In the 2010 assembly polls, 54.85 per cent women cast their votes, and in the 2015 elections, over 59 per cent women exercised their franchise. 

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, almost 60 per cent women cast their votes, and in 25 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats, women voters had even outnumbered men

In all these elections, Nitish won landslide victories in alliance with other parties, leading to the perception that women — cutting across castes and communities — were behind him.

Also read: Bihar voters fatigued by Nitish but he’ll be helped by goodwill for Modi, BJP assessment says

A section Nitish has nurtured

Since he came to power in 2005, Nitish has continuously nurtured women voters.

He introduced the free cycle programme for girl students, distributing 4 lakh cycles in the first five years of his government. 

Nitish also introduced a 50 per cent quota for women in panchayat and municipal bodies, leading to the appointment of many women as mukhiyas (heads) and chairpersons of municipal bodies. 

In his second term, he stressed on the formation of women self-help groups (SHGs) and set a target of forming one million such groups. He also announced grants to start their business. 

“Today, there are more than 1 million (self-help) groups and around 13 million women are associated with them,” Nitish said Friday.

In 2017, he provided financial assistance to Class 12 girl students and those pursuing their graduation. Above all, he introduced 50 per cent reservation for women in government jobs. 

In April this year, he increased the amount given to ASHA workers — from Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000. He even banned alcohol on the demand of women SHGs in 2016.

Crime against women

However, after 2015, Nitish’s pro-women image suffered a setback as the state reported a spate of crime against women, including the infamous Muzaffarpur shelter home sexual abuse case in 2018. 

There have also been several rape cases in the state in which the accused even released videos on social media. 

Last December, Nitish wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging for a ban on pornographic sites, holding it responsible for rise in crime against women.

“Even in Covid time, there were crimes against women. At least, two cases surfaced about girls being sexually abused in hospitals. There was no special plan to look after women during Covid times,” said Nivedita Jha, the working president of Bihar Mahila Samaj.

Focus on youths and farmers

Apart from reasserting the importance of women as part of his electoral strategy, Nitish has also tried to counter the aggressive attack by his main political rival RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav on unemployment. 

On Friday, Nitish offered youths financial assistance and opportunities of skill development if they seek self-employment. “Giving government jobs has a limitation,” he said.

He tried to woo the older generation by promising to set up old-age homes in every block and the farmers by promising irrigation facilities. 

Nitish also had a message for his ally. “It is for the BJP to talk to LJP and RLSP (over seat sharing),” he said, indicating that his party was not going to reduce its share of seats.

Also read: Nitish wants new Dalit faces ahead of polls after constant LJP attacks and minister’s exit


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