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Congress bid to woo women voters

Shillong, Dec. 18: The Congress is going all out to woo women voters into its fold in matrilineal Meghalaya in its bid to make a comeback next year, although its candidates for the 2013 Assembly polls are yet to be cleared by New Delhi.

From Mahila Congress workers undertaking political journeys to various constituencies to chief minister Mukul Sangma launching women-centric and family-centric schemes, the ruling party is sparing no effort to ensure that it garners maximum support from women.

At the same time, as the party is clouded with shades of reported infighting among leaders and intense battles among ticket aspirants, the Congress has been tactfully delaying the announcement of its candidates to stem rebellion.

While parties like the United Democratic Party (UDP), National People’s Party (NPP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP) have announced their candidates in some of the 60 constituencies, the Congress has been hesitant to follow suit. It fears that those denied a ticket would wreck the party’s winning chances in some crucial constituencies.

The party leadership in New Delhi is likely to announce its candidates after the Christmas festivities to provide lesser chance to rebel candidates to contest the elections.

However, the delay in announcing the candidates has not stopped the party from encouraging women to support the Sonia Gandhi-led party.

The All-India Mahila Congress (AIMC) secretary, Poonam Rani Wangkhem, who is in-charge of Congress women in Meghalaya, has been travelling from one constituency to another since the first week of this month.

Starting with five constituencies in the Garo hills region, Wangkhem has also visited constituencies like Mawshynrut in West Khasi Hills and Mowkaiaw and Raliang in West Jaintia Hills to give more teeth to the party’s grassroots organisation.

She has been appealing to women to enrol themselves with the Mahila Congress and avail of schemes like widow pension scheme and the old-age pension scheme.

“In most of the constituencies which I have visited so far, very few women were aware of the existence of such schemes. Mahila Congress should come forward in a big way to help women avail of these schemes,” Wangkhem said today at two party meetings held at Mowkaiaw and Raliang constituencies.

But electioneering alone is not the only weapon the Congress is utilising to compete in the polls.

On Saturday, the ambitious Megha Health Insurance Scheme, which aims to cover lakhs of families in Meghalaya, was launched by Sangma.

The scheme seeks to provide protection to BPL households from financial liabilities arising out of hospitalisation.

It will cover five members of a family — husband, spouse and three dependants — with an insurance cover of upto Rs 1,60,000 per household on a floater basis.

Each family has to pay Rs 31 as registration fee after which a smart card will be issued to each household. However, central and state government employees will not be eligible to avail of this ambitious scheme.

Sangma had also launched the Chief Minister’s Social Assistance Scheme for the Infirms and Widows has been launched to benefit 4,541 infirms and 4,625 widows at Rs 500 per month.

The Women Economic Empowerment through financial inclusion scheme was launched on Meghalaya Day, 2012 where 60,000 families will be covered in 2012-13 with margin money of Rs 5,000 per family. It is anyone’s guess whether the Congress will bank on these schemes to garner maximum support from women.

Only time will tell how far these schemes pay off for the ruling party in its bid to return to power; this time with the goal of coming back with an absolute majority.