The party shows its penchant for announcements that convey a lot of ‘intent’.
With barely a week left for the Karnataka Assembly elections, the BJP came out with its poll document on May 4.
The party, which has been under attack over its handling of the Kathua and Unnao rape cases and owing to the statements of some of its leaders, has focused on women’s issues in a big way in its manifesto.
In line with the BJP’s penchant for fancy promises and impressive rhetoric, the women of Karnataka have been offered free smartphones, free mangalsutras, employing 1,000 policewomen to probe gender crimes and an ambitious “Kittur Rani Chennamma Flying Squads” scheme, named after the much-loved Lingayat queen.
The promises seem novel on paper. However, they betray the BJP’s time-tested policy of tackling problems with grand announcements that convey a lot of “intent”, but prove difficult to implement and whose effectiveness is debatable.
In the run-up to the Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP had announced “anti-Romeo” squads to prevent harassment of women. The scheme turned into an instrument of moral policing, before petering out.
In the wake of the recent outrage over the Kathua and Unnao rapes, the party responded with a new law stipulating death penalty for those raping children younger than 12. Experts have pointed out that harsher punishment is not going to make children safer, and might actually prove counter-productive.
The party’s Karnataka polls manifesto has seen the same trend of impressive schemes over concentrating on strengthening existing systems.
The Kittur Rani Chennamma Flying Squads are meant to quickly respond to distress calls of women in Bangalore. As part of the squads, the Special Investigation Cell under a woman police officer — aided by the strength of 1,000 policewomen — will investigate all pending crimes against women.
But both measures are the existing police force’s responsibility. Ensuring effective action and accountability from already present systems requires behind-the-scenes, consistent action. That does not seem to be the BJP’s forte, as the sky-high figures of crimes against women in party-ruled states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh suggest. The party instead chooses to focus on the impressive optics of new cells and squads.
Promises to keep
The other benefits announced for women in the manifesto are free sanitary napkins for the underprivileged, one rupee-napkins for other women, free smartphones and 3-gm gold thalis (mangalsutras) for those from BPL families, increasing the amount payable at maturity under the Bhagyalakshmi scheme to Rs 2 lakh, a Rs 10,000-crore Stree Unnati Fund to set up women-run co-operatives that will sell their products at Stree Unnati stores, and loans up to Rs 2 lakh for women’s self-help groups at one per cent yearly interest.
This seeming bounty from the BJP reflects the party’s inconsistencies in policymaking. The Centre has steadfastly refused to bring down the 12 per cent GST on sanitary napkins, despite repeated demands.
Multiple central government initiatives, such as the MUDRA scheme and Mahila E-Haat, Bharatiya Mahila Bank, Udyogini Scheme, are supposed to provide the benefits that the Stree Unnati Fund promises. Why is the BJP duplicating its own schemes, which can confuse beneficiaries and make it difficult for authorities to track their implementation?
Also, the BJP, at one point, had been a fierce critic of the “politics of freebies” practised in the southern states. Yet, its manifesto is remarkably “promising”.
The free smartphones scheme is very similar to the “free laptop with 1 GB data” scheme the party promised in Uttar Pradesh. So far, there has been no allocation for the laptops in the state’s budget.
Women make up about 49 per cent of voters in Karnataka. Understandably, the BJP’s manifesto has made a strong pitch for them.
Not only this, the poll document is high on other emotive promises
– farm loan waiver, bringing back the Prevention of Cow Slaughter Bill, ensuring only Hindus are employed in Hindu temples, etc.
It remains to be seen if voters will lap up the BJP’s standard mix of saffron-flavoured grand schemes and development dreams.