In the end, it became the ‘Rs 2,000 election’. This poll promise of the Congress to give a cash dole of Rs 2,000 to every woman in the state seems to have made the loyal voter of the Narendra Modi-led BJP shift in some measure to the opposition party, handing it a big win.
The Mahila voters have always been crucial, but this was even more so in the Karnataka elections where they outnumbered the male voters in 122 out of the 224 seats. Traditionally, in the Lok Sabha election and the state poll wins of the BJP, the women have firmly backed the saffron party for various reasons — a sense of security and law and order, the Ujjwala scheme, the toilets scheme, the free rations during Covid, etc.
However, in Karnatakait seems the issue of price rise has prompted the women to switch to an extent to the Congress, which promised an aid of Rs 2,000 per month to every woman to tide over the inflation. An LPG cylinder was selling for over Rs 1,100 in Karnataka and state Congress chief DK Shivakumar had placed a cylinder in the press conference hall of the party office in Bengaluru as a symbolic move to highlight it.
BJP runs out of gas
The BJP had realised it had a problem on its hands and hence promised three free LPG cylinders every year to each poor family in Karnataka. Senior party leader BL Santhosh said in a recent Twitter Space: “LPG has become expensive due to the Russia-Ukraine war. We had provided Ujjwala, but because of prices, Ujjwala is not yielding results, so we decided to give three cylinders free to people in Karnataka to tide over the crisis…this is not for everybody, it is only for the BPL families.”
But the women voters calculated that they stood to gain more from the Congress promise. An elderly lady that this correspondent met in a village in Mysuru said the Rs 2,000 dole was a big one as she also had an unemployed graduate son in the family who was eligible for another Congress guarantee of Rs 3,000 per month. “Rs 5,000 per month is a big help for our family. We also get PM Kisan Nidhi of Rs 6,000 a year from the central government which won’t stop in any event,” she had explained, signifying how women voters decided to have ladoos in both hands.
The Congress had upped the ante by adding a ‘fifth guarantee’ to its set of promises, which was free bus rides for women across the state. Rahul Gandhi also shared a bus ride with women to reiterate it and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra first spelt out that promise. The assurance of 10 kg of rice plus the Rs 2,000 per month promise was an attractive proposition for the women voters in Karnataka. “A decision of a woman voter also influences the entire family,” a Congress leader explained to News18, pointing to the longer queues of women on polling day than of men.
Template for future
Santhosh had conceded that the Rs 2,000 promise for women had been the biggest campaign point of the Congress in Karnataka and that the opposition party had “gone house to house on the ground” with them. The ‘guarantee card’ with these promises was distributed to each of the two crore households in the state, co-signed by DK Shivakumar and Siddaramamiah, generating credibility. The BJP mounted a campaign to discredit the ‘guarantees’, saying the Congress had not fulfilled such promises after wins in other states, but the voters did not believe it.
The Congress seems to have found a magic potion to win state elections after the success in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka — wooing the loyal women voters of the BJP with promises of cash doles. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra promised Rs 1,500 per month to women in Himachal and now Kamal Nath has done the same in Madhya Pradesh for polls to be held later this year. A similar strategy may be adopted by the Congress in Telangana, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh too. A ‘Nyay 2.0’ type promise of cash dole for women across the country during the 2024 general elections may also be on the cards.
The BJP plans to take the message to the women that such cash handouts are “fiscal disasters” for the economy and its schemes of empowering them are much better. It has a Karnataka lesson to take a cue from.