Along with matters like Kanhaiya Lal’s beheading, paper leaks and corruption, the issue of women’s safety in Rajasthan figures in almost every address by top BJP leaders during their campaigns for the November 25 Assembly polls.
Even while releasing the BJP’s manifesto in Jaipur on Thursday, party national president J P Nadda devoted most part of his address to the party’s promises for women. Nadda said the party’s aim is to ensure “honour of women”.
The BJP has pledged 33 per cent reservation for women in the police force, a women police station in every district, constitution of “anti-Romeo” squads, three women battalions under the Rajasthan Armed Constabulary (RAC), free education from kindergarten to post-graduation for girls from economically weak background, and free scooty for meritorious Class 12 girls, apart from a Rs 2 lakh savings bond at the time of birth of a girl child.
There are several reasons why the BJP is focusing on women in its Rajasthan poll campaign.
First, in the absence of a major corruption scandal plaguing the Ashok Gehlot-led government or the arrest of any Congress leader despite multiple raids by various central agencies, the BJP has turned to issues such as paper leaks, women’s safety and law and order to target the Congress dispensation. The alleged Jal Jeevan Mission scam is being pursued against the Gehlot government only now.
Second, the women’s safety issue flared up due to a series of incidents that led to a higher National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures for crimes against women in the state.
The first major embarrassment for the Gehlot government was the alleged suppression of the gang rape of a woman in front of her husband in Thanagazi during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Gehlot had responded with several schemes and stricter measures to control crimes against women, including mandatory FIR registration across the state.
As per the NCRB data for 2018, Rajasthan stood fifth among states in total number of crimes against women, in a list led by the BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh. In 2019, following the change with mandatory registration of FIRs, Rajasthan shot up to second spot, with the total number of crimes against women rising in the state from 27,866 in 2018 to 41,550 in 2019. In 2020, Rajasthan stood third with West Bengal moving up to the second place. Rajasthan again returned to the second spot in 2021, the latest year for which the NCRB has released its report.
The BJP seized on this data to claim that Rajasthan has become “unsafe” for women. For the Congress, explaining to the masses that the rise in the number of FIRs in crimes against women is precisely because of the Gehlot government’s steps to get every case registered has been an uphill task. That is also the case with explaining that the average time taken to investigate crimes against women in the state has fallen from 138 days in 2019 to 56 days in 2023.
Third, law and order or women’s safety could be a volatile issue and Gehlot’s 5-year term has been dotted with several cases of heinous crimes against women. While the CM has been quick to manage a favourable perception in most other matters, says a Congress leader, “all it takes is one brutal case to undo the government’s image (when it comes to law and order)”.
Fourth, senior BJP leader and ex-CM Vasundhara Raje is perhaps the most prominent woman face to emerge from Rajasthan in its recent history but after sidelining her, the party needs to push its “pro-women” image.
Raje has been a popular leader among people, especially women, across the state. The number of contesting women crossed the 100 mark in the elections to 200-member Rajasthan Assembly for the first time in 2003, when the BJP had declared Raje as its CM face. In the 2018 elections, a higher percentage of women (74.66) voted than men (73.49).
But with the BJP sidelining Raje this time, it needs to fill in that gap. Hence, the BJP is aggressively pushing itself as a “pro-women party” and also seems to be promoting another woman leader, Rajsamanad MP Diya Kumari, who has been fielded from a party stronghold Vidyadhar Nagar.
In contrast, the Congress has to bank on its central leader Priyanka Gandhi as its woman face in the state.
Fifth, identity politics is the key issue for the BJP in its campaign against the Congress in Rajasthan – and its bid to rake up the issue of a “woman’s honour” fits well into it. For instance, addressing a rally in the state recently, UP CM Yogi Adityanath said, “If the Congress succeeds (in forming the government again), Talibani mentality will dominate and play with the honour of sisters and daughters.”