With months left for the all-important Uttar Pradesh state assembly elections, almost all political parties that are entering the fray have launched political campaigns to woo their prospective voters. While the BJP has centred its campaign around developmental work and its Hindutva roots, other political parties such as Samajwadi Party are still relying on the old hack of caste dynamics to stop CM Yogi Adityanath from returning to power.

The Congress party, which was once the focal point of the Indian political arena, however, is struggling to mount a reasonable campaign to provide a credible alternative to the voters in Uttar Pradesh. Rahul Gandhi, like always, is on a wild goose chase, trying to revive the political fortunes of a party that seems to be irredeemably consigned to the fringes of Indian politics. Similarly, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, too, appears to be complimenting her brother in ensuring that Congress remains out of contention in the upcoming UP assembly elections.

Shorn of any positive vision to dazzle voters and inspire their confidence, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra recently took to criticise the Yogi Adityanath government on the issue of women empowerment. Ms Vadra, perhaps with the aim of mobilising women voters behind the Congress party, proclaimed that LPG cylinders and toilets are not women empowerment.

In Rae Bareli, one of the few remaining pocket-boroughs of the Congress party, Ms Vadra declared that providing access to LPG cylinders or building toilets for women is not empowerment. Instead, she said empowerment will happen when women would be able to decide their own priorities, make their own life and be capable to fight against all exploitation.

“Empowerment does not mean gas cylinder or a toilet. It means self-reliance. Women should. beable to decide their priorities, make their own life and be able to fight against all exploitation,” she said.

Acess to toilet a step towards empowering women with freedom, health and dignity

Of course, women should have the agency of taking decisions that they deem appropriate, of setting priorities for themselves without others foisting their commands on them, and fighting off all kinds of exploitation, but access to LPG cylinders, bank accounts and toilets remain some of their basic necessities.

For decades, when Congress-led governments were in power, women were systematically denied their basic rights. The governments then had been so inconsiderate of women that they did not consider it as their priority to build toilets and provide women with proper sanitation. As a result, women were forced to defecate in open, which made them vulnerable to health hazards and gender-based violence. They were also compelled to time their excretion, either in the dead of the night or in early morning, to avoid the ignominy of being seen by men living in their neighbourhood.

It took Narendra Modi government in 2014, almost six and a half decades after India won its independence, to address this lingering issue and construct toilets that provided women with not only with better sanitary conditions but also freedom, health and dignity. Women no longer to had to suffer the humiliation of defecating in open places. It provided them with freedom, safeguarded them from health issues that stemmed from open defecation and upheld their dignity.

LPG connection to women provided health benefits, unlocked a world of new opportunities

Similarly, women in rural parts of India were condemned to cook meals on traditional stoves, causing grievous health hazards. While their urban counterparts and sufficiently wealthy households used LPG cylinders, the poor ones had to fetch firewoods and rely on traditional chulhas for their food. For years, the Congress governments at the Centre did not consider it as their duty to extend LPG connections to all households, regardless of their location or income status.

It was under PM Modi’s government that Ujjwala Yojana scheme was launched that distributed 50 million or 5 crore LPG connections to women below the poverty line. For the first time in their lives, millions of women cooked food on LPG gas. Besides saving them from smoke that emanated from traditional firewood stoves, LPG cylinders considerably reduced cooking time, providing women with more time to pursue other opportunities such as education, learning new skills etc.

Priyanka Gandhi believes LPG cylinders and toilets are not worthy of being considered as women empowerment

However, for Priyanka Gandhi, something as basic as access to toilets and LPG connection is not worthy of being considered as women empowerment. Consequently, it betrays the incredible sense of privilege that Ms Gandhi enjoys, where she considers access to toilets and LPG cylinders so ubiquitous that it does not deserve to be regarded as touchstones of women empowerment. Since Ms Gandhi is born into privilege, she possibly assumes that having toilets and LPG cylinders is so undistinguished that they cannot be treated as empowering women.

Ms Gandhi and her brother, Rahul Gandhi, may have presided over various photo-op opportunities to bill themselves as the leader of the masses, but the reality is that they were born into privilege and they continue to dwell in their ivory towers, far removed from the issues that plague the society. It is for this reason that they often dismiss issues that are of paramount importance to the masses as inconsequential and unimportant. And this disconnect with the masses is one of the reasons why their party, Congress, continues to flounder across all fronts.

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