MUMBAI & KOLKATA: The 2014 general elections saw the largestever number of women being sent to the Lok Sabha — 62. But women still accounted for just 11% of the winners, and 48% of the electorate, according to the Election Commission of India. That is why the announcements by two political parties to field more women in the Lok Sabha elections are significant.
Biju Janata Dal (BJD) chief and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said on March 10 the party would field women in seven of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state. The party had just two women in the fray in 2014. Two days later, his West Bengal counterpart and president of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) Mamata Banerjee revealed the names of the party’s candidates for the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state. The list had 17 women. In 2014, there were 12 women candidates from the party. “Everyone is talking about 33% reservation for women. 41% of our candidates are women,” Banerjee said.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi also recently promised to reserve 33% government jobs for women and pass the Women’s Reservation Bill that promises 33% of seats for women in the Lok Sabha, if the party was voted to power. The Women’s Reservation Bill, which also seeks to reserve seats for women in the state legislatures, was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010, but was not taken up in the Lok Sabha. It lapsed in 2014.
Now, there are 66 women in the Lok Sabha, out of 543 elected members (two are nominated). India ranks 149th in the world in women’s representation in the lower house, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
While the BJD and TMC deserve credit for pushing the cause of gender parity in electoral politics, observers say these parties might not have fielded more women candidates if there was no political dividend. With general elections to be held in seven phases between April 11 and May 19 (results on May 23), parties would look to gain brownie points, they say.
Pratap Deb, a BJD member of the Rajya Sabha, says Patnaik’s decision is a culmination of the state’s initiatives to empower women, including giving financial assistance to pregnant women and raising the reservation for women in Panchayati Raj institutions from 33% to 50%. “Elections are not just about taking a stand, but also about winning.”
Rabi Das, a senior journalist in Bhubaneswar, says this will consolidate the popularity of Patnaik — India’s second longest-serving incumbent chief minister — among women. “Naveen has forced other parties to think of women candidates.”
State Congress chief Niranjan Patnaik also said the party would give more tickets to women this time. Besides bolstering support for Patnaik among women, this move could also help Patnaik replace unpopular MPs, Das adds.
According to a survey conducted by Lokniti after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 47% of the women in Odisha voted for BJD, compared with 41% of the men. The party bagged 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats. Both its women candidates won.
Later that year, after the death of one of its male MPs, his wife Pratyusha Rajeshwari Singh contested the by-election and won.
The opposition, however, has questioned Patnaik’s decision. Kanak Vardhan Deo, a state BJP leader, asks why Patnaik did not extend this policy to the assembly election, too, which will happen concurrently with the general elections.
But BJD’s Deb says the party should be appreciated for being the first to make such a commitment. None of the BJD’s three women Lok Sabha MPs — Sakuntala Laguri, Rita Tarai and Pratyusha Rajeshwari Singh — was available for comment.
Around 9% of the candidates in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Odisha were women — 17 of 196 candidates — higher than the national average of 8% (668 of 8,251). West Bengal scored even higher, at 11%, or 51 of 472.While the TMC had 12 women candidates, the CPI(M) had seven, the Congress six and the BJP just one.
More impressive than the number of women candidates in West Bengal is the number of women MPs. Women emerged victorious in 12 of the 42 seats, or 29%, the highest percentage among all states.
Among the TMC candidates this time are actors Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan; schoolteacher Birbaha Soren; and Rupali Biswas, the wife of a Trinamool MLA who was shot dead last month. Banerjee probably hopes a sympathy wave will see Biswas through. Also on the list of candidates are incumbent MPs Moon Moon Sen and Satabdi Roy and MLA Mahua Moitra. With more than a third of her candidates being women, Banerjee intends to be seen as a champion of women’s participation in electoral politics.
MLA Moitra says: “The BJP, despite mentioning it in their manifesto, could not pass the Women’s Reservation Bill. But Mamata Banerjee has shown that if you want to do some good, you do not need a bill.” There have been attempts to pass the bill since 1996 and the next government is also likely to take it up. But even if there is no law, it would be a welcome trend if more party chiefs emulated Patnaik and Banerjee.
Source: Economic Times