Shiv Sena woos women voters for Maharashtra Assembly polls

As the battle for a bigger chunk of the electoral pie gets bitter, the ruling ally Shiv Sena is quietly wooing the women voters in the state to help catapult it to victory in maximum number of seats.

Of the total 8,73,30,484 voters in Maharashtra, 4,57,02,579 are male and 4,16,25,819 are female, besides 2,086 transgenders on the state electoral roll — giving significant edge to any women-oriented measures.

However, despite homilies by politicians on women’s empowerment, barely 150 women are contesting the state elections or just 4.6 percent of the total 3239 candidates. This compares miserably with 2014 elections’ 277 female candidates out of 4119 with 20 finally winning.

Worse, this time, the mainline political parties have fielded 46 female candidates for the 288-member assembly. They include: BJP – 17, Congress – 14, NCP – Eight and Shiv Sena – Seven, as per the data released by the state election authorities.

Strategised after the Lok Sabha elections, the Shiv Sena came up with “Pratham Ti” (She First), a 3-day women’s convention in 25 districts of the state spearheaded by handpicked 20 women leaders.

Launched in Parbhani district, the women leaders interacted with over half a million women, including voters, in 25 districts addressing various topics like empowerment and women’s special concerns.

A party leader told IANS that many of the ideas for the “Pratham Ti” initiative were thrown up during Shiv Sena youth leader Aditya Thackeray’s state-wide ‘JanAshirwad Yatra’ undertaken three months ago.

“They focused mainly on the Five-‘S’ on which the party has already been working on since several years. Shikshan (education), Suraksha (self-defence), Samata (equality), Swasthya (health) and Swavalamban (independence) for the women,” the leader said, requesting anonymity.

The women-focussed campaign stressed on these women-centric issues amidst the backdrop of the vision of the Sena’s founder-patriarch, the late Bal Thackeray, who always supported women’s rights.

The 20-strong women brigade – drawn from the Sena’s female wings – were further divided into five groups of four each to conduct the mini-conclaves in various districts. They claim to have directly touched half a million women during the drive last month.

They included: Former Mumbai Mayor Shubha Raul, Mumbai Mahila Vibhag Sanghatak’s Kishori Pednekar, Sena Deputy Leader Priyanka Chaturvedi, Mahila Arthik Vikas Mahamandal President Jyoti Thakare, and BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation Law Committee Chairperson Sheetal Mhatre among others.

In fact, the response to this programme inspired the party leadership to involve the women to draft the Shiv Sena Election Manifesto that was released last weekend by party President Uddhav Thackeray.

The highlights of the manifesto include: Rs.10 for a wholesome nutritious meal for the poor, for which womens’ self-help groups shall be a 200-test health checkup for Re.1, which kicked up a huge debate in rival political circles.

Opposition parties including Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi questioned “what happened to the Re 1 ‘Zunkha Bhakhar’ scheme that was launched by the erstwhile Shiv Sena-BJP government in 1995-1999.

Additionally, women have been concerned by the incidents of growing crimes and atrocities against them and the question of unemployment especially among the female youth, among others.

Hopefully, despite fielding the lowest number of women candidates this time, the Sena is probably traversing the right alley if the Election Commission of India (ECI) latest data in an indicator.

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