The Gender Factor

The gender factor matters in polls. And the leadership of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is not comfortable with their male chauvinistic bias. They want to be labelled as a male dominated party with a gender bias against the fairer sex. The last thing the Modi government needs in election season is to be called ‘‘anti-women’’. The Congress is well aware of their weak point. While addressing students of one of Meghalaya's premier institutions, Saint Edmund's College Rahul Gandhi said : ‘‘The RSS does not believe in women's rights. Does anyone know many leadership positions are with women in RSS? Zero. They give all power to men because they believe in a male-dominated society where women can be dominated without fear’’.

On another occasion Congress President remarked : ‘‘In Indian society, women have always had a very special place, they had a very large space. Since ancient times, women have played a crucial role in decision-making and have been extolled in history and literature. However, the Sangh Parivar does not believe in women's rights. Our Prime Minister has been deeply groomed in that mindset. His own life is an example of that. All his slogans like 'Beti Padao' are only political catchphrases which he neither believes in nor practises in his own life’’.

The saffron analysts have been studying such speeches with increasing anxiety. Along with describing the Modi government as anti-farmer and anti-Dalit, the Congress would harp on BJP's gender bias.

Although the cover pages of the latest Economic survey were coloured pink, as a symbol of support for women's empowerment, the Chief Economic Advisor had in the opinion of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) needlessly harped on issues like ‘‘lower participation of women in economic activities adversely affecting the growth potential of the economy’’.

There was irritation that Arvind Subramanian had even gone to the extent of revealing that "women workers are the most disadvantaged in the labour market, as they constitute a very high proportion among the low-skilled informal worker category, and are engaged in low-productivity and low-paying work".

It was noted that many newspapers in the country had highlighted this portion of the Survey with headlines emphasising that women are the most advantaged under the Modi government.

What was worse, in the eyes of the Sangh analysts, was that one of the RSS's own front organisations, the Bharatiya Majdoor Sangh (BMS), has become over-enthusiastic in trying to champion the cause of female labourers.

Particularly infuriating for the parent organisation was the fact that the BMS had even issued a public statement criticising the Finance Minister for this year's Budget speech in which he announced a cut in women employees' contribution to EPF from 12 percent to 8 percent for start-up enterprises.

BMS president Saji Narayanan was frowned upon for his logic that "a cut in EPF deduction will lead to increase in take-home salary of women; and this will result in a drastic reduction of 16 percent in their future EPF savings when they leave their establishment". Hence, according to the BMS head, "this is not a welcome step".

Both BJP and RSS are in any case annoyed with Bhariatiya Majdoor Sangh for frequently adopting an anti-Modi posture and creating hurdles in the way of labour reforms. The BMS indeed already gave a call for a nationwide agitation on February 20 to protest against the 'anti-labour policies" of the Modi government.

Instead of helping the government, the BMS is launching a massive "resistance movement", dubbing the central government as "anti-labour and "anti-women". The irony is that thousands of RSS volunteers were roped in to stage "Black Day" dharnas outside the venue of the Labour Conference in New Delhi on February 26.

Apart from other demands like seeking relief for workers in both formal and informal economy who have been badly hit by Demonetisation and GST, raising allocations to the Unorganised Social Security Fund and reviving sick PSUs instead of privatisation, the BMS is strongly demanding increasing honorarium to woman workers in Aanganwadis and bringing them under social security coverage and also immediately implementing the Supreme Court verdict on "Equal Pay for Equal Work" for women.

These are burning issues all over the world, with women's rights movements fast occupying centre-stage even in developed countries like the United States and Europe. The Economic Survey also pays special attention to gender equality. It pointed to the "wide gender gap" in the labour force of the country and hinted that the Budget would incentivise employers to hire more female workers to bridge the more than a 50 percent gender gap in the labour force participation rates in India—much more than other developing nations, such as Brazil, Italy, Indonesia and Mexico. The Finance Minister, however, paid only lip service to this aspect and largely ignored specific recommendations to improve the lot of female workers and livelihood-seekers.

The last thing the Modi government wants at this juncture—with just a year to go before the next Lok Sabha elections—is for the Prime Minister himself to be labelled as having made insensitive remarks against a woman MP. The Congress party, on the other hand, appears to have sensed an opportunity to expose the BJP-RSS leadership for its misogynist mindset.


Vol. 50, No.42, Apr 22 - 28, 2018