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women Centric Poll!

Bhubaneswar: It seems that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is back at the job much ahead of the next elections. Naveen has started meeting the members of the Mission Shakti in phases and the process is likely to be completed by 25 September. The BJD supremo had also made a similar exercise in 2018 ahead of the 2019 elections and it had paid rich dividends. The BJD fielded seven women candidates (33%) in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and five of them came out successful.

About women empowerment and the contribution of female voters towards the BJD’s successive victory since 2000, Congress veteran Suresh Kumar Routray’s statement sounds prophetic. “The wives do not go by their husbands’ words, but vote for Naveen’s conch symbol en masse,” he said. Naveen has also paid back by empowering women since he came to power in 2000. Naveen launched Mission Shakti in 2001 and Mission Shakti is not just a women’s self-help group now, but a movement by itself. There are about 70 lakh women members in the movement of the state’s over 1.67 crore female voters. These 70 lakh Mission Shakti members are considered as the solid vote bank of BJD and they have stuck with Naveen through thick and thin.

The womenfolk support Naveen despite the fact that crimes against women rose by 23 per cent in 2021 as Odisha saw a huge spike in cases of rape, abduction or cruelty by husband and his relatives in 2021. The crime rate per one lakh of the women in the state rose to 137.8 in comparison to 2020, the third highest in the country after Assam and Delhi. The women of Odisha have supported Naveen disregarding the opposition BJP’s bid to woo them with Ujjwala Gas scheme.

However, party insiders say that Naveen now aims to capture all the 1.67 crore women voters and expand MS’s network. The party has already reserved 33% and 50% seats for women in rural and urban polls. This time, Naveen may not hesitate to give 50% tickets to women in the Assembly elections as they are more loyal, dedicated and dependable while their male counterparts often bring bad names for the party by indulging in business once they became MLAs.

Of the 147 assembly seats in Odisha, Naveen may prefer more than seventy women candidates in the assembly elections. Pramila Bisoyi, the MP from Aska, is a glaring example of how the village women workers can win polls for the party. What has actually panicked the existing law makers is that many of them may not have a party ticket as Naveen is now in search of successful Mission Shakti members to become candidates in the assembly elections. The women self-help group leaders, inducted into politics by the local BJD MLAs, are now on the top. One should not be surprised if Naveen picks up the highest number of women candidates in the ensuing State Legislative Assembly elections.

While receiving lifetime achievement award from a Delhi-based NGO, Naveen revealed what was his top agenda. “Our governance model, rooted in the empowerment of women, Mission Shakti, is something which we are truly proud of. Similarly, empowerment of tribal communities has always been close to my heart and Odisha leads the country in providing land rights under the Forest Dwellers Act and more than half a million tribal girls study in our hostels. Farmers have always been the backbone of our State and their hard work has fetched the State the Krishi Karman Award four times. Odisha is the only State to have doubled farmers’ incomes,” he said.

It was the former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who realised the strength of women and started Mission Shakti programme. However, he failed to implement the programme fully. And Naveen, being a clean and intelligent politician, picked up Naidu’s theory and made it a huge success in Odisha. “Mission Shakti” is the self-help mission for empowering women through promotion of Women Self-Help Groups (WSHGs) to take up various socio-economic activities which were launched in the state on 8th March 2001 on the eve of International Women’s Day. Since then, Naveen has never looked back and went on winning elections after elections.

Odisha has carved out a separate Department of Mission Shakti with an efficient and honest bureaucrat Sujata R Karthikeyan, who is spearheading the Mission Shakti across the State in a big way. Now bankers are providing Mission Shakti loans to WSHGs to promote sustainable livelihood of members. Loans up to Rs 3 lakh are provided to enhance credit access to invest more capital in livelihood activities. With support from the State Government, each member of the WSHG now earns at least Rs 5,000 a month and sometimes it is seen that they run the family.

As the Governing BJD is promoting women and getting success, the opposition parties like BJP and Congress may also adopt the same strategy in the next elections thus making Odisha politics women-centric. The BJP, which aims to capture power by hook or by crook in 2024, may also take similar measures and field more women in the elections.

Congress, which has now set a target to take its MLAs number from 9 to 90 in the Assembly, will also not hesitate to take help of women to reach the goal. The coming elections in Odisha are likely to be very crucial as the state will witness parties focusing on both women and tribal people. As there is no scope of religion, caste and creed based politics in Odisha, it could be gender based and community based affair in the land of Lord Jagannath.  

The BJP which has made Droupadi Murmu, a tribal woman, the President of India, may this time claim a share from BJD’s women vote bank. The saffron party may get some support from the tribal women this time due to ‘Droupadi Factor’ even as Naveen and his party wholeheartedly support the ‘Daughter of the Soil.’ A visit of the President of India to her native Mayurbhanj district, may also impact voters, political observers opine.