How Jagan Mohan Reddy is consolidating a women’s votebank | India Today Insight
On September 11, about 15 months after assuming office, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy launched the YSR Aasara, his flagship scheme for women’s welfare. Under this scheme, over four years, the government will reimburse the Rs 27,168 crore outstanding to commercial and cooperative banks under loans taken by women’s self-help groups (SHGs) across the state. Most of these loans, taken by SHG members, were for education, healthcare, the care of older family members and other necessities. The ruling Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress (YSRC) government says that 8.7 million will benefit as a result of this scheme.
Releasing the first tranche of payments—Rs 6,792 crore—Reddy emphasised that the amounts would be credited to beneficiaries’ unencumbered accounts and that bankers had been instructed not to make deductions against old loans. “If you want to start a business, such as opening a cottage industry or purchasing cattle, the government will help you get loans,” he announced. The government’s offer comes despite the fact that the state is strapped for cash—the first tranche is a tad less than this year’s revenue shortfall, estimated to be about Rs 7,000 crore.
YSR Aasara is in keeping with Reddy’s promise of development, made in the run up to the Lok Sabha and legislative assembly elections last year, which his party swept. The scheme is an integral part of a larger initiative by his government for the social and economic empowerment of women. The state has also tied up with Amul to encourage dairy farming, as well as with Hindustan Unilever, Proctor and Gamble, Reliance, ITC, Allana Group and others to provide logistics and technical help to women entrepreneurs setting up cottage, small and medium businesses for a stable livelihood.
A slew of schemes have been launched in the past 15 months. All involve cash grants or zero-interest loans to women from disadvantaged groups. In implementing these schemes, Jagan Reddy is following the ‘saturation strategy’ favoured by his father Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy when he was chief minister. This broadly involves covering eligible disadvantaged groups under several schemes so that they benefit from at least some of them, depending on how well the schemes are implemented and funded.
Jagan Reddy has also been working to undo social barriers that restrict women. His government has paved the way for this by providing 50 per cent reservations in nominated posts and small government works handed out by nomination instead of tenders. His home minister and deputy chief minister are women from marginalised groups, and the state’s chief secretary is also a woman, IAS officer Nilam Sawhney.
The other schemes include:
YSR Cheyutha: a scheme granting Rs 18,750 a year for four years to 2.3 million women in the 45-60 age group and from disadvantaged castes and communities to allow them to set up small businesses;YSR Sunna Vaddi: a scheme to write off interest charges on loans availed earlier under the zero interest scheme for SHGs;YSR Sampoorna Poshana: a nutritious feeding programme to eradicate infant and maternal mortality;Jagananna Amma Vodi: a grant of Rs 15,000 a year to mothers who send their children to school and college up to the intermediate level;Jagananna Vasathi Deevena: a grant of Rs 20,000 a year towards boarding and lodging expenses for mothers educating college-going children; andJagananna Vidya Deevena: a total fee reimbursement scheme for students from poor families with the grant credited to the unencumbered accounts of their mothers in four tranches a year.
The pioneer of women-centric schemes in the state was Telugu Desam Party founder N.T. Rama Rao, who gave educated young women party tickets, which contributed to his first electoral triumph in 1983. He also brought in a law to accord daughters equal rights to paternal property. Rajasekhara Reddy continued the schemes, sensing that women voters are more committed than men. Jagan Reddy is consolidating and trying to expand this strategy by focusing on women across caste groups to build a formidable vote bank. Some of his new schemes are simply old ones with a new name—the Amma Vodi scheme, for example, which provides monetary incentives to women to send their children to school has its origins in the Centre’s Sarva Siksha Abhiyan.
Among the new programmes is Aada Bidda Ku Raksha Gaa Kadhuludham which emphasises gender equality and elimination of crime against girl children. UJJAWALA is an extension of an earlier scheme that aims to rescue women being trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. The programme seeks to rehabilitate them through SHGs, CBOs and other civil society organisations. ‘Sadhikara Mithras’ is a sub-programme for gender awareness and the protection of women that is specifically aimed at underprivileged women and girls.
“The empowerment of women is witnessing a multiplier affect with the potential for cascading confidence and skills among adolescent girls,” says sociologist P. Durgaprasad, visiting professor at the Central University of Odisha, Koraput, adding, “ while Jagan’s ‘Gravitas’ seeking endeavour is a long distance away from that of his father, he nevertheless is a potential aspirant.”
The plethora of schemes launched by the state government are nonetheless valuable to the poor and vulnerable during the current pandemic. However, some point out that this level of expenditure is not sustainable. “They put a substantial financial burden on the state exchequer,” says Dr B. Sarangapani, former professor of Economics, Hindu College, Machilipatnam. He adds that “the Jagan government has lost its focus on revenue generation and augmenting capital expenditure, which, in turn, will cripple the state economy in the long run.” Continuing these schemes through the five year term, while facing a severe cash crunch, is a challenge that is yet to be addressed.
The YSRC chief has overriding electoral compulsions. In 2004, men had a voting turnout advantage of 8.4 per cent when compared to women. Since then, the gap has declined steadily. Women voter turnout in 2019 increased by 1.37 per cent (1.37 million more women) over that of the general elections of 2014. In the 2019 Lok Sabha and assembly polls the turnout of women was 240,000 more than men. The turnout of women was greater than that of men in 101 of the 175 assembly constituencies, accounting for 36 MLAs. “It is crucial for the YSRC to hold on to women voters for winning future elections,” says Gowd Kiran Kumar, public policy researcher at the University of Hyderabad, adding that the CSDS-Lokniti post-election survey showed that while 51 per cent of women voted for the YSRC, 40 per cent backed the TDP and six per cent the Jana Sena Party of actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan.
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