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Has Modi struck the right notes?

Narendra Modi’s speech hailing women’s power at the FICCI ladies’ wing can be seen as the Gujarat chief minister’s efforts to reach out to a powerful constituency at a time when gender issues are at the forefront of any debate in India. BJP’s strongest prime ministerial candidate has sung paeans to ‘Mother India’, while striking down Rahul Gandhi’s ‘beehive’ metaphor as an insufficient and unjust description. Modi’s nod to women’s contribution in India and marking out the serious problems circumscribing their potentials and achievements are important watersheds that would come to redefine his image from a hard-hitting, woman-baiting autocrat to one who is attuned to the new realities of 21st century India. Indeed, Modi’s FICCI speech is a far cry from the times when he placed a price tag on Congress minister Shashi Tharoor’s wife, Sunanda Pushkar. The reconfigured Modi instead pointed out that statistics on female infanticide are ‘hair-raising’, that women are setting the entrepreneurial and socio-cultural agenda, with their pro-active stance on every political and economic development within the country. The thrice-victorious CM said that modern India could only progress if it matches its strides with the forward steps of women all across the country, citing that some of the most important and successful models of cooperative firms have been started by women, who had no prior experience in the cutting-edge, flighty capital-driven industrial sector. Lijjat Paapad, Amul and other women-centric firms have changed the perception of society, which now doesn’t baulk at the prospect of women handling important responsibilities, or taking decisions that are going to have wide-scale implications.

Modi’s track record in Gujarat vis-à-vis women’s development and empowerment is not abysmal, although it’s particularly spectacular either. His relationship with other women politicians in the country is, however, a work in progress. The ‘Bachelor of Gujarat,’ finds it easier to connect with self-made entrepreneurs, whether from Gujarat, or around the country, and doesn’t matter if they are women or men. He also keen on giving women greater say in minding village panchayats, and run the show. Modi, who’s seen more as a CEO because of his bureaucratic bent-of-mind and a brilliant grasp on the grammar of the social media as well as other forms of technology, has more of a scientific developmental agenda, which spans issues of poverty, religious intolerance or bridging the gender gap. In fact, that he hailed Jessu Behn’s Pizza before an audience of elite women, of whom most are married to the biggest corporate bosses of our country, is indicative of the politician’s respect for building skills at every level. The story of Ganga Baa, the child-widow who presented Mahatma Gandhi his trademark charkha, points towards the distance Modi has traveled from his days of playing the communal card in order to ensure Hindu votes.
MPost

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