Prime Minister Narendra Modi showcased his government's contributions to women's welfare and defended his government's big plan to raise the marriage age for women and put it on par with men. The plan has run into trouble with opposition from social workers and political parties.
Speaking at a government function in Uttar Pradesh's Prayagraj, attended by over two lakh women, PM Modi said: "The Central government has taken a significant step. Earlier, the age of marriage of women was 18 years. But girls also want to have more time to study. That is why we are trying to increase the age of marriage to 21".
Then, without naming any party, he added, "If anyone has a problem with that, they (the women) are seeing that too".
Two MPs of Samajwadi Party, along with the leaders of the Congress, CPM and several others, has said they would oppose the proposed bill in parliament. Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, though, has distanced himself from the issue, saying the SP is a "progressive paty".
In face of the resistance, sources indicated that the government might tweak its stand. The government is not opposed to parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill, sources said. The select committee can go through the provisions of the Bill, a senior minister has said.
Prayagraj -- seen as the gateway to eastern Uttar Pradesh -- is one of the areas where Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party had a strong voter base. The Congress, led by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, has also been active in the area with its women-centric campaign.
"What did I say to the women of UP? To use their power, now even PM Modi has bent a knee," Ms Gandhi Vadra was quoted as saying after the Prime Minister's address on Tuesday.
"Why didn't he announce this in the last five years? Why now, before elections? Women have woken up with our 'Ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon' slogan," she added, referring to Tuesday's event, where the Prime Minister initiated the transfer of Rs 1,000 crore to Self Help Groups under Central schemes that is expected to benefit around 16 lakh women.
In what was his 10th day in Uttar Pradesh over the last month ahead of elections, PM Modi said from improvement of law and order to education and finance, women's empowerment is a priority for the government.
"Till five years ago, there was mafia-raj and goondaraj in Uttar Pradesh. The biggest sufferers were women. But you could say nothing. If you went to police stations, a phone call in favour of rapists and criminals would come. But Yogi has put the criminals in their place," he said.
"Women have realised that they no longer want to be confined to their homes, they no longer want to go back to how things used to be. Hence, they know not to bring back previous governments in the state who did nothing for them. Today, women know which party works for their benefit," he added.