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Indian politicans woo their women as final vote looms


With three days to go before the final round of voting in the Indian election, first-time candidate Ravindra Singh is a man with a mission. He wants to use the last few days to consolidate the female vote in his favour.


In Agra, a conservative town in North India, that's easier said than done. Singh, a candidate for the fledgling Common Man’s Party, told women voters, “In this election, our two main priorities are to end corruption and to increase safety and security for our daughters and sisters. Please vote for me.”

Indian women have traditionally voted along caste or family lines. This time, however, they are expected to assert their independence at the polling booth like never before.

Singh says, "The 2012 women's movement in response to the gang rape and murder of a student in Delhi resonated across the entire country. It compelled us politicians to think that if we cannot make half of our population feel secure and respected, then all this development and economic growth is meaningless."

Singh's party is making many overtures to women voters, from increased security to more women in the police force to greater opportunities in education. But many women are unimpressed by mere promises.

One told FRANCE 24, “All political parties are asking for our support, that's their job. But, in our experience, politicians don't really keep their promises.”

Another said, “When I go to vote, it will be for a candidate who is good for women, and who will reduce sexual violence and crimes.”

Prime ministerial candidates of the two major parties - Congress's Rahul Gandhi, who is thought to be headed for a crushing defeat, and Hindu Nationalist Narendra Modi, of the BJP Party, are also going some way towards courting women voters.

Liz Mathew, deputy bureau chief at "Mint Newspaper" in New Delhi, told FRANCE 24, "I think these two have sensed the power of women's support and the need to transform that into votes. I think women too have started demanding things. Even the rural women have started asking the candidates – ‘OK, where is the water? What have you done? What is for me or what is for my family?’"

India’s women’s groups have published a six-point "Womanifesto" that demands, among other things, better protection and faster prosecution of violent crimes against women. It has been endorsed by the Congress Party and the Common Man party but not by the party tipped to win, the BJP.

Women's participation in voting in India rose from 38 percent in the 1950s to 66 percent in 2009, and pollsters expect the turnout to be even higher this time around.

The number of women candidates has also risen, with 631 women standing this time compared with 355 women in the 2004 election.

India’s national elections began on April 7 and will end on May 12, with results expected to be announced on May 16. The vote is the world’s largest, with 814 million citizens voting for 543 MPs.

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