UPA 2.0: For women power

Lord Swraj Paul was right when he said that Sonia Gandhi has become `very serene`.

Sushmita Dutta

Lord Swraj Paul was absolutely right when he said that in the last decade Sonia Gandhi has not just become a mature politician, but also become “very serene”. "It’s as if Sonia has found her destiny in leadership," Lord Paul said. "She has paid a great personal price because of family tragedies. But she seems very much at peace with herself now."

Sonia’s political Path

Sonia Gandhi stepped on the Indian soil as the Italian daughter-in-law of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1968. Three decades later she treads the same path as her mother-in-law. Since Mrs G., there has never been a political figure so revered by the party and the people of the nation. Sonia Gandhi has been invested with a very high degree of political power by her party, which was almost in tatters before she decided to resurrect it.

Once Sonia Gandhi got on to the political bandwagon, she displayed grit and determination. She campaigned for the poor and the dispossessed; she selected her allies in government with astuteness and made ultimate sacrifice of lucrative post of the PM.

In the bargain, Sonia Gandhi also made BJP leader Sushma Swaraj eat crow. Sushma had been declaring from roof tops that she would shave her head if Sonia Gandhi becomes the Prime Minister of India. In a master stroke of sorts, Sonia just handed over the reins to the cleanest man possible, Dr Manmohan Singh. It took the wind out of the BJP’s sails.

Her political foes, particularly in the BJP, had underestimated her intelligence, her ability to grasp complex economic and social issues, and her willingness to seek informed advice on governance. But with rare deftness, Sonia has managed to position herself as the voice of the Indian public, the millions of underpowered people who had for long felt unheard. While being the most powerful figure in the UPA, she continues to appear outside the government and keeps sending letters to the PM about issues like price rise and has made the issue of getting Women’s Reservation Bill passed a part of her personal agenda.

Now, with the second term in office and on the completion of its 1st year of its second term, let’s do a reality check of how much the UPA government has really fared for womenfolk?

NREGA’s Benefits

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or the NREGA has been the jewel in the crown of the UPA government. The NREGA was formed with an objective of people’s ‘right to life’ which enables them to live with dignity. This flagship job guarantee scheme promised equal wages to men and women from extremely poor and vulnerable backgrounds. The scheme provides for hundred days of guaranteed employment to all adult members of a family with a minimum wage of Rs 100 per day.

NREGA’s uniqueness, though, lies in its view towards women. Women are given priority in the allocation of employment and one-third of the work force comprises women. The wages that are to be paid to both men and women are the same, thus removing any kind of inequity.

Female foeticide

In the 63rd Independence Day speech from the ramparts of Red Fort, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh lamented, "It is very sad that in our society, the girl child is being killed even before being born. This is a shame on our society," He said that it is quite important that the blot of female foeticide must be removed from India. UPA government second spell in power has shown that it is serious about the survival of the girl child. The female foeticide rate has come down in the last few years with states like Rajasthan and Punjab have showing a steady decline in the number of infant girls or foetus being killed .

To improve the low sex ratios in Haryana’s Kurukshetra and Ambala districts, two Delhi-based non-government organisations have roped in community groups to become watchdogs against gender determination and female foeticide.

The project, initiated by the Centre for Social Research in collaboration with Women Power Connect, aims at achieving gender equality.

Education for the Girl Child

But along with saving the life of the girl child, it is necessary to provide her with amenities of making her life worthwhile. The UPA government has launched the National Female Literacy Mission, which aims to reduce the female illiteracy by half.
The UPA government has perhaps grasped the fact that a society can actually move forward when its women folk progress. It goes without saying the Right to Education Act will also go a long way in helping girls get lettered.

The Women’s Bill

The best thing to have happened in this term of the UPA is the passing of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha. After years of protests, Congress pushed the bill in the Upper House and got it passed. It was a big day for the women in our country who would want to get better representation in Parliament.

The bill still needs to go through the Lok Sabha. But the government, after passing the bill in Rajya Sabha, has suddenly gone silent on the matter. UPA should have gone ahead and tried to get the bill passed in Lower House as well. But it did not. Is there any real will to go ahead with it further or the Rajya Sabha victory was just a gimmick, still remains a question.

Besides the UPA initiatives, women themselves have broken quite a few glass ceilings and proved their worth in recent years. Chanda Kochhar, CEO and MD of ICICI Bank, Indra Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsico Inc., Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw Chairman, Biocon India and of-course Sonia Gandhi, Congress party President were given berth in the Forbes annual list (2009) of the 100 most powerful women.

Sonia and Nooyi were among the top 15 as the most powerful women in the world.

While the view at the top looks quite dazzling, the big question is whether initiatives of the government are reaching the grassroots level and creating an impact. And that is what the UPA needs to set itself to achieving in remaining four years in power.

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