BJD, TMC allowing significant number of female candidates is a welcome step, but it's women leaders who must take lead

Couple of days after Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik announced that his party Biju Janata Dal will offer 33 percent reservation for women candidates in the general elections, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee put 17 women in the list of 42 Trinamool Congress candidates. That’s over 40.5 percent. Banerjee may seem bottled up by the Central forces but she seems ready to contest in neighbouring states without worrying about being distracted from her state campaign. Despite facing headwinds from the Centre, she makes bold statements, floats cardboard cutout characters from the film world (from Moon Moon Sen to Locket Chatterjee to Shatabdi Roy) and pulls votes from across Bengal on her personal appeal.

BJD, TMC allowing significant number of female candidates is a welcome step, but its women leaders who must take lead

File image of Mamata Banerjee. PTI

Unlike children of politically valuable bloodlines, a girl from a lower middle-class family took the student politics route, voiced her opinion in newspapers and erased her anonymity the day she busted the invincibility of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) rule at the age of 29 by defeating a stalwart like Somnath Chatterjee. Today, from the same Jadavpur seat that etched the TMC supremo on the canvas of Indian political history, Bengali actress Mimi Chakraborty has been fielded. Encouraging women from non-political backgrounds to join politics and cashing in on their familiarities, which doesn’t threaten her own supremacy isn’t a sign of inclusivity in the electorate. From Jayalalithaa to Mayawati to Mamata Banerjee, women leaders in India have failed to groom a second rung of strong women leadership that can eventually take over, which is why the need to fill up electoral space with women arises in the first place.

Mahua Moitra, former investment banker and now a member of the Trinamool Congress told Firstpost that the Women’s Reservation Bill still hasn’t been passed and that the lack of a bill will not deter Banerjee from “doing the right thing”. Lately, Congress president Rahul Gandhi was also seen seeking the support of parliamentarians on women’s reservation quota in the Legislature. Back in 2013, when Narendra Modi was chief minister of Gujarat, the state Assembly had passed a legislation reserving 50 percent of all seats for women in panchayat, nagar panchayat, nagar palika, mahanagar palika and zila panchayat. But it was shot down by then governor Kamla Beniwal.

Nandini Satpathy, Odisha’s first and only chief minister and an ally of Indira Gandhi, had imprisoned noted activists Nabakrusna Choudhuri and Rama Dev during the Emergency. Today, four decades after assuming power, women in the same state require a reservation to come out and join politics. Her son Tathagath Satpary, former MP of Dhenkanal from the BJD, recently quit politics. He shared with Firstpost that he remembers a time in Odisha when his mother would go and campaign in villages and the women would come out and talk while the men would stand behind and listen. While he supports what Patnaik and Banerjee are doing, the fact that reservation is premised on the belief that the beneficiary is weaker might not auger well with the necessity of courage to rise through the ranks in politics.

Aparajita Sarangi, the bureaucrat-turned-politician who joined the BJP in Odisha, tours new villages every other idea. “In places like Gania, Balipatna, Begunia, and even an advanced area like Khurda, I see women are low on confidence. College-going girls hide behind doors and fail to find the strength and come out and interact with political leaders,” she said. In recent months, important women leaders like Prabhati Parida and Lekhashree Samantsinghar have joined the BJP. Last year, the state unit of BJP’s women wing launched a state-wide Mahila Suraksha Yatra.

Both the TMC and BJD are simultaneously attempting to combine the increased women representation with the women-centric policies launched in their tenure. In the case of Odisha, Sasmit Patra of the BJD highlights, the move to offer reservation is not a knee jerk reaction but a logical progression that started from the grassroots.

“Mission Shakti, launched by the BJD, is a self-help group driven programme that offers loans on zero percent interest and 70 lakh women in a state of 4.3 crore are attached to this scheme,” he said. Biju Mahila Janata Dal president Sulochana Das, who is actively running the campaign titled ‘Ghare Ghare Shankh (the party’s symbol, the conch shell, in every house), said that it was those 70 lakh women and their families who brought the BJD back to power the last time. But Sarangi shared that Odisha often fairs terribly in the rape and domestic violence index and that its women are repeatedly asking her to have liquor banned in the state. “In the BJD rule, 4,470 liquor shops have sprung open. This threatens the safety of women more than anything else,” she pointed out.

Across the border from Odisha, Banerjee’s government launched the Kanyashree scheme, a conditional cash transfer scheme, which ensures girls stay in school and defer their marriages till the age of 18 and the total scholarships sanctioned have benefited nearly 50 lakh students.

True emancipation of women will happen when women in power sincerely chose to lift up other women and not just merely involve them to play second fiddle.

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Updated Date: Mar 15, 2019 16:02:25 IST

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