Narendra Modi,who is now becoming a frequent visitor to New Delhi,addressed the women’s organisation of FICCI today,and surprisingly began with the ‘Merey paas Ma hai’ tone.
He was addressing a room full of women entrepreneurs,who have smashed some glass ceiling somewhere and are all very aware of the ‘sacrifices’ women have made over generations for men and the hearth. Yet,Modi,for the first half hour of his hour-long speech invoked ‘stree shakti’ and how women need to break free of regressive attitudes.
Modi expressed his shock at the female foeticide data across the country,though all human development indices reveal that his state is somewhere at the bottom on this.
Modi steered clear of central policies on women but extolled what he has done in the state: no stamp duty on property owned by women,special status for women panchayats and 50 per cent reservation in the state government. But he added a footnote to each: ‘the state did lose nearly 600 cores on stamp duty,but so what…; ‘they make roti but tribal women drive domestic economy…,’a woman governor is holding up the reservation act…’
He dutifully mentioned all the markers in modern India that embody women empowerment Amul,Lijjat pappad,and he added to this list one Jassuben whose pizzas ‘beat Pizza Hut anyday’. We don’t know much about the Jassuben enterprise,but Modi is just lucky that Amul and Lijjat happened in his state. The Amul cooperative,based at Anand in Gujarat,was formed in 1946. It is today managed by a cooperative body,the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. (GCMMF),which is jointly owned by 3.03 million milk producers in Gujarat. And Lijjat started in 1959 with a seed capital of Rs 80.
And then came the mandatory political jibe: Feminist Modi put Jassuben who passed away 5 years ago over Feminist Rahul’s Kalavati.
Modi came out partly patronising and partly facilitator of a controlled autonomy for women. And a large part of the speech was dipped in melodrama ‘fingers of the women who embroider your expensive saris bleed,but she doesn’t let pain come in her way.’ Full points!
Later in the speech,Narendra Modi was a little more forceful,talking about engaging this 50 per cent of our population in decision-making with the help of policy. He didn’t talk concrete about what these ‘policies’ could be,how the government and executive can facilitate financial autonomy for women. Therefore,an extremely important statement of his Women must have financial independence to become stakeholders in decision-making remained a platitude.
But Narendra Modi has addressed this very important constituency of India’s vote bank. He started with Mother India and reminded women in the room that the expensive clothes on their bodies come drenched in the sweat of the underprivileged. Establishing her position — even if he drew more from culture and tradition to reminding the room that growth will have to be for all.
The women might take this for the moment,but before the bugle blows for 2014,Mr Modi will have to be more specific.