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India’s Narendra Modi Is Courting Female Voters in His Bid to Retain Power

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is shifting his attention to a number of women-focused policies ahead of the 2019 national election, with plans to reserve parliament seats for women.

Bloomberg reports an increase in female voter turnout in India that contrasts with men’s declining participation has prompted a change of focus for Modi. He is now considering a plan to reserve seats for women in parliament, with backroom negotiations on the issue already underway, two people familiar the matter told Bloomberg.

“Women emerging as a vote bloc would be a crucial factor in deciding the election” though there is no sign that they favor parties that back female-friendly issues, Sanjay Kumar, director of the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, told Bloomberg. Yet, “there is a trend to mobilize them. There is greater thrust on women’s issues by Modi’s government.”

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Building on a variety of women-focused initiatives—increased maternity leave, campaigns to educate girls, the provision of safer cooking fuels for rural families—Modi is now pushing to outlaw instant divorce in Muslim communities. However, some are casting skepticism on the pace of change.

“Women are half of society, so focusing on them is critical,” said Nikita Sud, associate professor of Development Studies at the University of Oxford, to Bloomberg. “However, one individual cannot initiate progressive change for half a billion people.”

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Sumit Ganguly, professor at the Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University, Bloomington, also criticized men’s dominance in the top levels of government. “[T]he rank paternalism in much of the ruling party’s leadership is constraining Modi’s ability to effect significant change,” he said.

While women outnumbered men at polling booths in 50% of India’s states in 2014, a Pew survey conducted earlier in 2017 revealed women were also more critical of Modi’s policies, specifically his handling of rising prices, communal tensions, and pollution.