The verdict is out. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's NDA government has been picked again following a hotly contested, six-week-long Lok Sabha election. The enormity of the Modi victory can be encapsulated in one simple statistic: Every second Indian voted for Modi as PM.
A month before the elections began, I travelled across Uttar Pradesh to understand how gender plays a role in electoral politics. The conversations and analysis on various factors that impact the results: caste, money, unemployment and agrarian crisis among others often miss one important factor: Women. In fact, women are just reduced to footnotes in election manifestos. I met about 200 women to understand what matters to them this election. There were a lot of disappointments — no window pension even after years of struggle, no gas connection, no electricity, half-completed toilets, and no jobs. However, a large number of women knew who they were going to vote for even before the campaigning had begun. Modi.
Why Modi? They had their reasons.
'No other neta has visited my village'
(Hirawati | Image credit: Adrija Bose)
Hirawati, who belongs to the community of Musahars, one of the lowest tiers in the caste hierarchy, declared she will vote for 'Modi ji' just at the mention of elections. The reason, she said, is that she hopes he will come visit her village in Raitara, Varanasi and realise that it needs development. Back in 2014, BJP workers had visited their village to make them aware of Modi. It stuck. "No other neta has ever visited our village. I will vote for Modi because he has promised to do good work. Maybe he will come to visit us if we vote for him?"
'I will vote for the person who wins'
(Asha | Image credit: Adrija Bose)
In the same village, Asha said the gender of the politician doesn't matter. She pointed out that gram pradhan, a woman, doesn't meet them because they didn't vote for her. A few weeks back, a transformer had caught fire burning a large portion of a wheat farm. The villagers get about 3 quintals of wheat after they farm for six months. This means a little over a kilo of wheat for every person. "When we went to the gram pradhan, she shooed us away," she said. "She won't do anything for us because we didn't vote her. Now we want to vote for someone who will win," Asha said.
'Hate politics only helps parties. I want development'
(Reshma Begum | Image credit: Adrija Bose)
Reshma Begum, the supervisor of National Inter College for girls in Varanasi said that the polarisation politics don't matter to her. "In all this hate politics, one party gains and one party loses. It doesn't affect common people like us. I want a leader who will reduce prices, and help in girls' education. I want a leader who cares about our development," she said. "Modi has promised to do all of that," she added.
'Modi sends money for development, middlemen pockets it'
(Shakuntala | Image credit: Adrija Bose)
Sakuntala, a resident of Modi's adopted village Nagepur, has not yet received her widow pension in the last seven years since her husband died. She has, however, received a free sewing machine from the government. It's not of much use to her because she has weak eye sight but she feels that this shows the government cares about her. The 54-year-old believes that the Modi government has been sending money for development of the village, but the middlemen have pocketed it.
'I found a job because of Modi'
Bindo Kesri, who teaches stitching at the training centre run by the Punjab National Bank right next to Nagepur said, "I will only vote for Modi. No one else." Bindo travels about 5 kilometres every day from her village to teach her. "It's only because of Modi that I have found a job, my vote is for him," she said. When asked if the candidate she votes for has criminal records, she said, "It doesn't matter."
'Five years not enough to change PM'
(Nagwati | Image credit: Adrija Bose)
In Uttar Pradesh's Chandauli district, Nagwati said that it is because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that they have got a toilet, and a gas connection too. In this particular, though, 40 per cent of the population comprises Brahmins and Rajputs, who own nearly all the land. The rest are mostly landless agricultural labourers. "Yes, many of the houses still don't have toilets but it will happen. This is just the beginning. Five years not enough to change our votes," she said.