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The curious case of women in Bihar: Will they turn the political tables?

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By Sreyashi Mazumdar

 

Picture credit: thepoliticalindian.com
Picture credit: thepoliticalindian.com

Politics in Bihar is nothing less than a concoction of casteism and social issues which are effectively used by the political parties to hold their grounds. Caste based politics has been a persistent bait, manoeuvring the fate of Bihar politics for a considerable time now; be it Lalu Prasad Yadav riding the yadav community, Kurmis, Koeris, Muslims plumping for Nitish Kumar or BJP banking for upper castes like Bhumiyars, Kayasthas and Bramhims for their share in the game.

However, taking to a different genre altogether, the 46.6 per cent of the women folk constituting the vote bank in Bihar has turned out to be a game changer on several instances. For instance, in the 2005 Bihar assembly election, women played a significant role behind Nitish Kumar’s triumph; toeing on a similar line, the 2010 assembly election ended on a similar note, thanks to Nitish Kumar’s women centric schemes. Immediately after coming to episode- a whopping percentage of 54.4 per cent of women voters had cast their votes during the elections.

photo credit: indiatoday.intoday.in
photo credit: indiatoday.intoday.in

Ever since Nitish Kumar has been helming the affairs, there has been a considerable change in the electoral politics of Bihar. Though women in Bihar have always been politically conscious, their decisiveness seemed stronger during the 2005 assembly elections in the month of October and henceforth.

According to a report in thewire.in, the voting percentage of men came down by three per cent and in case of women it went up by two per cent in the year 2005. Further in 2010, 54.4 per cent of the women voters casted their votes as compared to 51.5 per cent of the male voters, thereby bringing forth a change in the political construct.

One of the major reasons corroborating the surging change in power was that he dished out a string of measures that would ensure women’s prosperity. In the year 2005, Kumar announced a 50 per cent reservation for women at the Panchayat level; further, in 2008 he distributed free land to women belonging to the Mahadalit and Muslim communities.

Besides that, he also rolled out a special scheme for girls appearing for the matriculation exams wherein a girl who bags a first division gets awarded with a hefty amount of Rs. 10,000 and the one with a second division receives Rs. 8,000. The chief minister delved into matters concerning hygiene. In the year 2014, he launched a program wherein school going girls from 8th to 12th standard will be given Rs 150 per annum for sanitary napkins.

photo credit: indianexpress.com
photo credit: indianexpress.com

Wading through the rugged terrain of a village located in rural Bihar, Nitish Kumar once paid a special visit to a group of women. Lending them a patient ear, he took into account the adversities of their lives. Alcoholism was one of the mutual concerns shared by the women inhabiting the village. “These women are right. If I return to power…I will have it stopped,” reciprocated Kumar.

Nevertheless, Nitish’s adversaries are equally tasking on philanthropy. In an attempt at wooing the women folk inhabiting Bihar, BJP has spelt out a number of schemes. One of the most talked of schemes includes Beti Bachao Beti Padhao. This flagship program enunciated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has garnered a little support across the country, including Bihar.

photo credit: india.gov.in
photo credit: india.gov.in

 

Further, Amit Shah has been making relentless efforts to create a women-centric vote bank that might ascertain BJP led NDA’s triumph in the upcoming polls. For instance, the political whizz had asked his party workers and Bihar MPs to gift the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Yojna to as many women as possible aside from pushing the Sukanya Samridhi Yojna in the state.

“Both the parties have got 50-50 chances in the forthcoming election. The status of women in the state has seen a stark improvement since Nitish Kumar’s chief ministership, though the process had already started when Lalu came to power in the 1990’s. However, Modi’s reiteration on Jungle Raj- 2 and his schemes like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao has influenced a lot of women and they are looking up to BJP as the party to helm the affairs in the state,” said Dr. Suraj Yadav, an academician and BJP candidate who had contested in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

He further added, “Women can be considered as a smaller chunk of the larger population who wield the power to tweak the forthcoming assembly elections in Bihar, though not in a major way. Taking a look into the socio-political construct of Bihar, one might get apprised of the nuances of the same. Women as a group can be further divided into varied castes; so, for instance – a woman hailing from the Kurmi community will be supporting Nitish Kumar, while the one from the Yadav community will be rendering her vote to Lalu Prasad Yadav.”

Reading into the possible complexities that might run into JD(U)- RJD’s way, Manish Kumar, a professor  at Patna University said, “Nitish Kumar might lose his ground considering his newfangled conjecture with Lalu Prasad Yadav. Lalu’s rule has been an infamous one; therefore, though Nitish Kumar talks of sushasan and women empowerment, Lalu’s jungle raj might scuttle RJD-JD(U)’s chances of winning the elections.”

Though Bihar has been persistently imbued with caste politics, a women centric vote bank comes as a game changer for the political gluttons of the state. Whether the new found pawns will turn the political tables is yet to be seen.

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Come April, government will be more comfortable in Rajya Sabha

Of the 100 BJP-allies MPs, 24 are retiring. Which means, the government will be left with 76 MPs

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Parliament of India is a source of interest for many people because of various reasons. Wikimedia Commons
Parliament of India is a source of interest for many people because of various reasons. Wikimedia Commons
  • In April, the opposition may lose its edge over BJP in Rajya Sabha
  • NDA led by Modi has faced many embarrassments in Rajya Sabha in past few years
  • This is expected to change soon

Come April, the opposition in the Rajya Sabha may lose its edge in the numbers game and the power to stall any government bill, as the ruling BJP-led NDA coalition is set to catch up with its rivals, though a clear majority will elude them for a while more.

BJP to soon get more comfortable in  Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia commons
BJP to soon get more comfortable in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons

As 58 MPs, including three Nominated and one Independent, are set to retire in April, the Rajya Sabha math is going to change. It is set to favour the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and the trend may continue in the elections to the Upper House later too with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) having solid majorities in a number of state assemblies, especially the ones it won after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

With this, while the Congress-led opposition’s numbers will come down to around 115 from the present 123, the numbers of the BJP, its allies and sympathisers together would climb to around 109 from the present 100-odd members.

And the gap, once wide enough to let the opposition invariably have its say, will keep narrowing further in the coming months.

Of the 55 retiring members (excluding those Nominated), 30 belong to the opposition camp while 24 belong to the BJP and allies. Of them, a large number of NDA candidates are set to return while the opposition will lose a chunk of its members.

As things stand now, the Congress-led opposition has 123 MPs (including 54 of the Congress) in a house of 233 elected members (apart from 12 Nominated), while the NDA has 83 members (including 58 of BJP) plus four Independents who support the BJP (these include MPs Rajeev Chandrashekhar, Subhash Chandra, Sanjay Dattatraya Kakade and Amar Singh).

Rajya Sabha or the Upper House can often be a game changer while passing of the bills is in process.
Rajya Sabha or the Upper House can often be a game changer while passing of the bills is in process.

Also, for all practical purposes, the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), that has 13 members in the Rajya Sabha, is also with the NDA. This means the NDA’s effective strength in the upper house of Parliament is 100.

The gap was wider till just a few months ago. This meant that during any battle between the government and the opposition in the Upper House over bills and major issues, it was the opposition that invariably had its way. The recent example was the triple talaq legislation that the opposition stalled in the upper house, demanding that it be referred to a Select Committee.

For over less than four years, the Narendra Modi government had faced quite a few embarrassments in the Rajya Sabha thanks to the majority of the opposition, forcing it often to take the money bill route to avoid a clash in the house. Under the Constitution, a money bill needs to be passed only in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha cannot stall it.

Also Read: For Modi, Road To 2019 Will Be Steeper

However, after April, the NDA will be in a far better position.

Of the 100 BJP-allies MPs, 24 are retiring. Which means, the government will be left with 76 MPs (including AIADMK). But at least 30 from the NDA are set to get re-elected. So the number will rise to 106. Add three members that the government would nominate to the upper house and the final NDA tally will roughly be 109 MPs.

Further, there are fence-sitters such as the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the YSR Congress, which are not virulently against the BJP and would not oppose the government unless for very compelling reasons.

Now, for the Congress and the rest of the opposition, they are set to lose 30 MPs (including one Independent, A.V. Swamy) through retirement and would be left with around 93 members. The Opposition may win roughly 22 seats, which means that its final tally after April is likely to be around 115 members.

Government can now expect some smooth sailing in the Rajya Sabha, coming this April.
Government can now expect some smooth sailing in the Rajya Sabha, coming this April.

The gap has clearly narrowed and the government may not be at the mercy of the opposition during crucial votes and can have its way in the Rajya Sabha if it musters its numbers by deftly wooing “floater” MPs.

The three newly-elected Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) members may remain equidistant from both the BJP and the Congress, though the party is friendly with some of the major opposition parties like the Trinamool Congress.

Also Read: BJP MP Seeks Amendment to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill

In an interesting development recently, the AAP actively participated in the opposition’s walkout and the day-long boycott of the Rajya Sabha over long intra-day adjournments of the Upper House by Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu.

The AAP, which was not welcome at any opposition meetings earlier, particularly those held in Parliament House, was invited to speak at a joint opposition media interaction on the day. But nobody can be sure as to how long this bonding would last.

Partywise tally of those retiring in April-May from the opposition’s side include 13 from the Congress, six from the Samajwadi Party, three of the Trinamool Congress, two each of the Nationalist Congress Party and Biju Janata Dal and one each of the CPI-M, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.

NDA has to face many embarrassments in past few years in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons
NDA has to face many embarrassments in past few years in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons

From the ruling side, 17 MPs of the BJP, three of the Janata Dal United, one of the Shiv Sena and two of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) are retiring.

In terms of state-wise vacancies to be created in April, the highest number is from Uttar Prdaesh (9), followed by Maharashtra (6), Madhya Pradesh (5), Bihar (5), Gujarat (4), Karnataka (4), West Bengal (4), Rajasthan (3), Odisha (3), Andhra Pradesh (3), Telangana (2), Uttarakhand (1), Himachal Pradesh (1) and Chhattisgarh (1). IANS