Mamata and Naveen Patnaik have handed significant number of tickets to women, but battle for representation rages on

A day after Naveen Patnaik's BJD declared that it would allot 33 percent of the party's tickets to women, Mamata Banerjee's TMC assigned 41 percent of the party's Lok Sabha election tickets to women candidates.

FP Staff March 13, 2019 16:06:54 IST
Mamata and Naveen Patnaik have handed significant number of tickets to women, but battle for representation rages on
  • There are 64 women in the 542-member Lower House and 27 women in the 254-member Upper House

  • So removed is the question of women that it even escapes the daily politicisation of everyday events for electoral gains

  • The involvement, growth and emergence of some of the most powerful women leaders in Indian politics comes almost always as a dynastic imperative

A day after Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal declared that it would allot 33 percent of the party's tickets to women, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress assigned 41 percent of the party's Lok Sabha election tickets to women candidates. The steps are laudable and have been lauded by anyone who is familiar with the remarkable sloth that takes over the biggest national parties when it comes to allowing a truly equal representation of women in politics.

Naveen and Mamata have shown the way. Yet their moves, however significant, only highlight the under-representation of women in the country's highest political spheres. Women make up around 11.8 percent of the Lok Sabha and 11 percent in the Rajya Sabha.

There are 64 women in the 542-member Lower House and 27 women in the 254-member Upper House. In the elections that preceded the upcoming ones, 8.1 percent of the tickets had been given to women.

Mamata and Naveen Patnaik have handed significant number of tickets to women but battle for representation rages on

Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik at the Mission Shakti event at Kendrapada. Twitter/@Naveen_Odisha

The numbers speak for themselves but they also do justice to the particular politics that lets the few women in the arena take on their roles.

Few can forget an unshod Rabri Devi heading to the Bihar Vidhan Sabha on the night Lalu Prasad quit as chief minister following an arrest warrant for his involvement in the fodder scam. Or that of Sonia Gandhi's famous reluctance to join politics, her fierce armour of guard even now. Or Mayawati's repeated insistence that she owes her entire political consciousness to mentor and Bahujan Samaj Party founder Kanshi Ram.

The involvement, growth and emergence of some of the most powerful women leaders in Indian politics comes almost always as a dynastic imperative. When there is no one else, a woman perpetuates a man's political legacy. Whatever power she gains in this journey is incidental. There are exceptions, like Mamata Banerjee or Sushma Swaraj, but cases for strong women in politics are not formed by chief ministers who slut shame rape victims or ministers in a government that shields those accused of sexual harassment.

So removed is the question of women that it even escapes the daily politicisation of everyday events for electoral gains. A case in point is the Bharatiya Janata Party's spokesperson Naveen Kumar, who when asked on News18 on Wednesday as to why the BJP has not allowed for an equal of even 33 percent representation of women in its own party, began speaking instead on Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar. This caused anchor Shreya Dhoundial to herself begin laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation, before urging Kumar to address the "women question first".

Mamata and Naveen Patnaik have handed significant number of tickets to women but battle for representation rages on

Representational image. PTI

The talk show was also reflective of another strategic trait common to those fielding questions on the paltry number of women in Indian politics. Most leaders said women were well represented and gave an example of the Panchayati system, where as a result of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment, one-third of the seats were reserved for women.

The fact that leaders still find in a 1992 step enough ammunition to validate the argument that there are enough women in 2019 is in itself a mark of how hackneyed India's political language is.

It is also a mark of how the country is prepared to "allow" women their justified reservation in the lowest levels of political representation but has stalled when it comes to allowing the Women’s Reservation Bill which aims to reserve one-third of all seats not only in the state legislative assemblies but also in the Lok Sabha, the country's second highest representative body.

This Bill too was only introduced by the United Progressive Alliance government in 2008. It has never been passed by any edition of the Lok Sabha since.

A call to do this was made in 2018 by the very man of the hour, Naveen Patnaik. Naveen, along with Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, is known for writing repeated letters to the Prime Minister, asking that he allow 33 percent reservation of women.

Naveen's BJD is a party popular to women, of whom there are 979 for every 1,000 men (according to the 2011 Census) in the state. Even in a state with an overwhelmingly rural population, women are key participants in the electoral process, often seen outnumbering the men in political rallies. They form an essential part of the electorate Naveen must be hoping to harness for a fifth stint as Odisha chief minister.

Mamata and Naveen Patnaik have handed significant number of tickets to women but battle for representation rages on

Mamata Banerjee announces TMC candidates for the Lok Sabha polls. ANI

Notably, the Mission Shakti convention where Naveen made the announcement of allotting 33 percent of the Lok Sabha tickets to women was in Kendrapada, a significant district in his political journey that was earlier represented by Baijayant Panda -- a BJD co-founder Naveen had suspended and who is now BJP vice-president.

Also worthy of noting would be the fact that Naveen has not extended the 33 percent promise to women candidates looking to fight the 147 seats of the Odisha Assembly. For a regional party like the BJD, one can argue, it is the Assembly that is the mainstay of its political hopes, not the Lok Sabha.

One must assume that Naveen is an honourable man. Yet there is little that he does without political purpose and the timing of his tickets-to-women announcement does reek of his particular ambition in these polls. In Naveen's own cabinet, there are only two women -- Planning and Convergence, Skill Development and Technical Education minister Usha Devi and Handlooms, Textiles and Handicrafts minister Snehangini Chhuria. This is a truth Naveen has not changed in the nearly two decades he has spent as chief minister.

In Mamata Banerjee's cabinet, the headcount of women, barring herself, is three. Minister of State (independent charge) of Technical Education Ashima Patra, Minister of State for Backward Classes Sandhya Rani Tudu and Minister of State (independent charge) of Housing and Health and Family Welfare, Chandrima Bhattacharya.

In her famous 41-percent-women-laden candidates' list are two mainstream Bengali film actors and a former actor who have never performed any significant political role before now. One can argue that populism is Mamata's age old poll bank (the TMC's Ghatal MP Deepak Adhikari is a popular actor with two percent attendance in the Lok Sabha) but it nonetheless makes her list an incomplete one when it comes to representation of women from all avenues of life.

When it comes to political power, women are vastly, shamefully outnumbered by men, accounting for less than seven percent of the world's leaders and only 24 percent of lawmakers, according to the latest statistics. In India, similar figures reflect a path yet to be charted.

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