The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gender storm over bachelor Atal

Indore, Sept. 30: Has Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee committed a crime against women by remaining a bachelor' Yes, if you ask Jamuna Devi, the outspoken deputy chief minister of Madhya Pradesh.

Having crossed swords on governance, caste, religion and populism, the Congress and the BJP in Madhya Pradesh are set to battle it out on gender, claiming each is more woman-centric than the other.

Yesterday in Indore, Jamuna Devi went a step further, accusing Vajpayee of inflicting the gravest injustice on women. Vajpayee’s crime — his bachelorhood. “How can the BJP be pro-women when its leader is a bachelor'” Devi said even as Sonia Gandhi, Digvijay Singh and Ambika Soni burst into laughter.

Devi sought to endorse Digvijay Singh’s bizarre charge, levelled a few months ago, that the chief minister now disowns.

In early summer, Digvijay had claimed that the country was facing drought conditions as it was being run by a bachelor Prime Minister and President. The barb was aimed at Uma Bharti, who is also single. These days, Uma is taunting Digvijay asking him how the rain gods are showering divine blessings on the same Prime Minister, President and Madhya Pradesh’s “would-be chief minister”.

Apart from the war of words, the two sides are busy projecting themselves as gender-sensitive and pro-women.

Sonia showcased the Congress as the lone party committed to women’s empowerment. Addressing a women’s convention in Indore yesterday, Sonia kept reminding the healthy all-woman crowd that her party has several “firsts” to its credit. It was the first national party to commit itself to 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and legislative assemblies and has already given one-third representation to women at all levels of party hierarchy. It was Rajiv Gandhi who had reserved one-third of the seats in village panchayats for women.

Not to be left behind, the BJP has invited Vajpayee to Bhopal on October 19 to launch Uma’s chief ministerial campaign in a mahila sammelan (women’s convention). The BJP is planning to mobilise a crowd that Uma said would be “many times” more than Sonia’s in Indore. She said the BJP meet would have “genuine women presence” unlike the “hired crowd of the Congress”.

BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan also claimed that the BJP was far more committed to the women’s cause.

He said the BJP has two women as chief ministerial aspirants — Uma Bharti and Vasundhara Raje Scindia — against the Congress’ lone nominee, Sheila Dixit in Delhi.

“We are going much beyond 33 per cent. In four states where the BJP has sizeable presence, we are giving 50 per cent share to women. That is real empowerment,” Mahajan said.

The two sides are also trading charges on crimes against women, painting the other as the worse offender.

Sonia led the charge, saying that under the BJP regime, women were the most vulnerable, facing the brunt of communal violence as they lost their brothers, husbands and children.

Braced with statistics from the Union home ministry, Uma claimed that Madhya Pradesh topped in crimes against women.

The Digvijay regime denied the charge, claiming that the state’s policy of empowering women was encouraging more and more Dalit and tribal women to come forward, assert themselves and speak out against age-old injustices.

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