An actress is jailed for protesting the controversial citizenship law of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, mother of a rape survivor and beauty pageant winner. These are the women who lead the once-dominant Congress party as it seeks to reinvent itself in a hotly contested state election.
The mass of female candidates in Uttar Pradesh is part of a new campaign led by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. With a catchy slogan “I’m a girl and I can fight”, the campaign underlines the growing importance of female voters in the world’s largest democracy.
Ms Vadra has promised that 40% of the Congress party’s candidates for the state assembly of 403 seats will be women. She has delivered on that promise in the first list of candidates her party has announced for the state polls to be conducted in seven stages from February 10. The election results will be announced on March 10.
“If you have suffered in the past, you must fight and take the power to fight for your rights,” Ms Vadra said in a video posted to Twitter last week. The Congress party’s list of candidates is a new kind of politics, she added.
— Congress of Uttar Pradesh Mahila (@UttarPradeshPMC) January 15, 2022
India is no stranger to powerful female politicians. Ms Vadra’s grandmother and former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, towered over the country’s politics for decades, while West Bengal Prime Minister Mamata Banerjee and former Uttar Pradesh Prime Minister Mayawati wielded considerable power.
While political parties have courted female voters, this has not translated to an increased number of female legislators. India last year ranked 147th out of 193 countries in the percentage of women in the lower house – Lok Sabha, according to data released by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
In the 2017 polls in Uttar Pradesh, when BJP leader Yogi Adityanath swept his party to victory, less than a tenth of the candidates standing across party lines were women. At the time, according to a tracker from Ashoka University, they had little success with just 39 clinting chairs.
Uttar Pradesh is seen as a key indicator of national mood ahead of the next general election in 2024. The Congress party won just seven seats in the latest state polls as it struggles to gain traction since the BJP came to power in 2014 came.
The women employed by the Congress party are diverse. Sadaf Jafar, the actress imprisoned for her role in demonstrations against a religion-based citizenship law, is now a spokeswoman for Congress. Another candidate, Poonam Pandey, led a protest wage of female frontline workers helping India achieve its vaccination goals.
The rape survivor’s mother has promised to work for the poor in her district if elected. The rapist of her daughter, a former powerful lawmaker, was found guilty of both assault and murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
For Ms Vadra, who formally joined the Congress party in 2019, the gamble is crucial. Her party has seen her star decline in Uttar Pradesh over the past two decades.
It remains to be seen whether the BJP and its rival for power in the state, the Samajwadi party, see this as a serious challenge. So far, the BJP has fielded 10 out of 107 candidates, while the Samajwadi party is putting forward one female candidate from its alliance with a regional party.
“If one party promises, other parties try to match it,” said Sudha Pai, a professor at the Center for Political Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
“Nevertheless, the Congress party has hardly any organizational structure and workers on the ground,” she said. “So how much it will help revive the party is very doubtful.”
(This story was not edited by DailyExpertNews staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)