A slew of decisions by the Union Cabinet—from enforcing the Triple Talaq law through an ordinance to raising wages for unsung Anganwadi women workers — are speaking for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government concern for the marginalised sections.
But these decisions also underline the BJP’s search for uncommitted votes at the grassroots when the elections are approaching. Whether it is deprived Muslim women or unrecognised Anganwadi workers in rural areas, they form a sizeable chunk of voters whom the BJP does not wish to ignore. That too, when the party is bracing itself to count every vote.
Even the so-called ‘T-20’ plan set for each BJP worker at the booth level to convince at least 20 voters in support of their party is towards this end. A small drop but could make for an ocean—if seriously undertaken.
A scrutiny of many decisions of the government is a pointer that the search for uncommitted voters lies in unearthing those sections of the society that have remained marginalised for a long time. Already, the talk in the ruling party is that votes in the 300-odd Lok Sabha seats in rural areas will matter most for the party in the 2019 polls.
The remaining 200 seats in urban and semi-urban areas where the aspirational middle-class reside are definitely a big challenge this time. With the promised ‘achhe din’ still a distant dream for many, the magic of 2014 looks uncertain to be repeated.
In fact, BJP chief Amit Shah himself underlined the political significance of the new initiative by penning an op-ed piece dedicated to Modi’s birthday on September 17. Shah drew attention to Modi’s interaction with Anganwadi women who are grassroots health workers, during which the PM announced an increase in their honorarium.
As a key aide who executes Modi’s campaign action plan, Shah could not but highlight that “this is one sterling quality I have observed in Modi, right from the earliest time I got the opportunity to work with him. Everyone in the organisation or government, performing any kind of role, would be personally encouraged by him and made to feel special.”
Modi would like such sections of the society to feel special ahead of the BJP’s challenge.
Shah was, of course, drawing attention to his government’s decision to increase remuneration and financial incentives given to Anganwadi workers and accredited social health activists (ASHA) from next month. Modi's announcement came a week after Anganwadi and ASHA workers joined farmers and other workers to hold a protest in Delhi on September 5.
Currently, there are 5 lakh Anganwadi workers and 9.38 lakh ASHAs across the country and they have been facing a host of issues including delayed payments and incentives. No small number if one considers the positive impact a wage increase normally causes. It was no surprise then that several Union ministers chose to highlight the importance of the Centre’s Diwali gift for them.
Similarly, Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s announcement of the Centre’s move for an ordinance for enforcing the TripleTalaq (instant divorce) ban—after more than a year of legislative logjam—conveyed its political import.
Asked if the Centre would further politically empower Muslim women, Prasad could not help but state the obvious: Muslim women do look up to the PM for deliverance from the evil social practice—as evidenced by what he saw “increase number of their presence in Modi’s rallies and meetings.” In the same breath, Prasad “appealed” to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi to overcome lure in the shape of vote banks and help in the passage of the Triple Talaq bill.
(The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.)