Modi targeted female voters. Did it pay off in the election?


On International Women’s Day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a unique approach to his campaign strategy for the country’s massive national election. Speaking at a rally in the eastern state of West Bengal, Modi addressed an audience composed solely of women, emphasizing their importance as a shield against criticism of his government’s decade-long rule. This event was part of Modi’s broader strategy of targeted outreach to women, who make up 49 percent of India’s population.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under Modi’s leadership, has positioned itself as a champion of women’s interests, touting various initiatives and policies aimed at improving their lives. Despite criticism of some of these policies as more rhetoric than substance, multiple surveys leading up to the election suggested that the BJP enjoyed higher support among women compared to men, a contrast to the opposition.

However, following the election results, which saw the BJP falling short of a majority and forming a government relying on coalition allies, a nuanced picture of women’s voting patterns has emerged. This election also witnessed a departure from the trend of increasing female representation in parliament in recent years.

Al Jazeera has examined how the BJP targeted female voters, the performance of its women candidates, the voting behavior of women, and the state of representation in the incoming Indian parliament.

One of the BJP’s major appeals to women was the Ujjwala scheme, launched by Modi in 2016, aimed at providing cooking gas cylinders to every household. Despite government data showing a significant increase in gas cylinder coverage, questions have been raised about the scheme’s efficacy, particularly regarding the affordability of refills for many recipients.

Another significant policy initiative was the extension of maternity leave for women workers in the formal sector, doubling it to six months in 2017. However, critics argue that this neglects the majority of women working in the informal sector, where labor protections are scarce.

Women’s safety has also been a key focus for the BJP, with Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, recording the country’s highest conviction rate for crimes against women under its BJP-led government. However, concerns persist regarding the overall increase in crimes against women in the state.

The passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill in September 2023 marked a significant milestone, aiming to ensure one-third representation for women in parliament and state legislative assemblies. Yet, the bill faces implementation challenges and uncertainties, raising doubts about its effectiveness.

The BJP has also touted its ban on triple talaq, a practice allowing Muslim men to instantly divorce their wives by uttering the word “talaq” thrice. While the ban is portrayed as a victory for Muslim women, critics argue that it perpetuates anti-Muslim stereotypes and may not address the broader issues facing Muslim women in India.

In light of these policies and initiatives, the BJP’s appeal to women voters appears multifaceted and complex. While some may view these efforts positively, others remain skeptical of their impact and effectiveness in addressing the diverse needs and concerns of women across India.

Moving forward, it remains to be seen how the BJP will navigate the challenges of governance and representation, particularly in light of the evolving socio-political landscape and the expectations of women voters. As India’s political landscape continues to evolve, the role of women in shaping its future remains a critical and dynamic factor to watch.


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