Women perform poorly amid little representation in Assembly polls across five states; Mizoram elects no female MLA

On the eve of the election results from five states, Congress president Rahul Gandhi wrote to Congress/alliance governments in states, urging them to pass a resolution in their next Assembly session on one-third reservation of seats for women in the Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies. However, the party might find it hard to follow its own diktat considering that except for Chhattisgarh, all other states saw a fall in women's representation in the assemblies, and several powerful women leaders and former ministers bit the dust this time around.

In Rajasthan, 189 women candidates contested the elections, including 23 from the BJP and 27 from the Congress; 10 and 11 of them won. There are only 22 women in the Rajasthan Assembly, compared to the 28 in 2013. The BJP had fielded several sitting legislators who retained their seats, like former chief minister Vasundhara Raje, former state minister of women and child development Anita Bhadel, former education minister Kiran Maheshwari and Suryakanta Vyas, among others.

From the Opposition, sitting MLAs Shakuntala Rawat and Zahida Khan retained their seats and discus thrower and Commonwealth Games gold medalist Krishna Poonia clinched the Sadulpur seat. Some of the more unexpected defeats were that of former Union minister in the UPA government Girija Vyas in Udaipur and Krishnendra Kaur (Deepa), who hails from the erstwhile royal family and was the tourism minister in the BJP tenure, in Nadbai constituency.

No woman in Mizoram Assembly

A particularly disappointing case in Rajasthan is that of Congress candidate Shabnam Godara, who contested unsuccessfully for the second time from Sangaria constituency. A former sarpanch who has contested zila panchayat elections and been the party in-charge for her region, Godara is representative of the grassroots women politicians who are unable to replicate their success in the higher rungs of political power. Both times, she was given a Congress ticket from Sangaria on the merit of her good work, like raising the case of polluted canal waters from Punjab at the National Green Tribunal, she said.

 Women perform poorly amid little representation in Assembly polls across five states; Mizoram elects no female MLA

Members of the Rajasthan Pradesh Mahila Congress campaign ahead of the Assembly elections. Twitter/Rajasthan Mahila Congress

Godara doesn't think her losses in the Assembly elections have anything do with the fact that she is a woman. In 2013, it was the BJP wave, and this time, her rival candidate, the saffron party's Gurdeep Singh, has a rather dubious reputation and matching strategies, she said, adding that people voted for him out of fear, and that it did not work that way in panchayats.

"That's my village and they are all my people," she said. Besides, Godara also expected a couple of strong candidates from other parties to eat into her BJP rival's votes, but the promising Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate Balvir Singh, for example, was not able to make much of a dent, finishing with just 283 votes.

"It ultimately became a two-person race, which is more difficult to contest," she said.

Godara still believes she put up a good fight; she lost by barely 7,000-odd votes. "The 92,000 votes I got is no small number. And they were all 'clean' votes, for which not one rupee or one bottle of alcohol was distributed," she said, adding that she would contest the elections again for these 92,000 people.

Furthermore, of the 15 women candidates who contested in the Mizoram Assembly elections this time, none were able to secure a seat. Vanlalawmpuii Chawngthu from the Congress, who was the only woman in the state Assembly after winning from the Hrangturzo constituency in the May 2014 bypoll, lost the seat to Lalchamliana from the Mizo National Front (MNF). Chawngthu was the fourth woman ever to have been elected as an MLA in the Mizoram Assembly after Thanmawii in 1978, K Thansiami in 1984 and Lalhlimpuii Hmar in 1987. She was also the second ever woman to be a cabinet minister in the state.

Representation down 33% in Madhya Pradesh

The BJP, which campaigned aggressively to open an account in Mizoram, had nominated six women, the highest among all the political parties in the fray, but it had failed to succeed. The Zoram Peoples' Movement fielded two women, and the Nationalist Congress Party and Congress each fielded one. The rest contested independently. MNF, the party that won the mandate to form the Mizoram government, did not have any women candidates.

In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress fielded 28 women, while the BJP gave tickets to 24 women in the 230-member Assembly, in keeping with the trends from the previous elections. However, in the new Assembly, women's representation has fallen by over 33 percent, as compared to the 30 women who were elected as MLAs in 2013.

"Only 19 women reached the Madhya Pradesh Assembly this time, which will affect issues such as women's empowerment and gender inequality, in the state," said Bhopal-based social activist Rachna Dhingra.

Bhopal, which has seven Assembly constituencies, got its first woman MLA in BJP's Krishna Gaur, the daughter-in-law of former chief minister Babulal Gaur, who won from Govindpura. Another notable woman in the fray was Fatima Rasool Siddiqui, the sole Muslim on BJP's list. The daughter of veteran Congress leader and two-time MLA Rasool Ahmed Siddiqui, she was given a ticket from Bhopal North, a seat that was considered lost for the party. Arif Aqueel, the five-time MLA from the constituency, eventually won the seat for the Congress.

In Telangana, too, the number of women legislators has fallen from nine in 2014 to six this time. This, despite the fact that 136 women contested the polls, as opposed to 85 in 2014.

The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) fielded a measly four women, three of whom won, including Telangana's first deputy speaker Padma Devender Reddy. While the Congress and its alliance partners fielded 14 women, only three Congress women eventually made it to the House this time, including former minister in undivided Andhra Pradesh, Sabitha Indra Reddy, and D Anasuya, who defeated a sitting minister from the TRS.

However, many important women leaders were defeated this time around in the pink sweep of the state. These include Konda Surekha, who has been in the Assembly for consecutive terms since 1999; J Gita Reddy, a prominent Congress leader in the south for the All India Professional Congress; Padmavathi Reddy, wife of Telangana Congress president Uttam Kumar Reddy; and DK Aruna, who had represented her constituency the past three terms.

Another celebrity woman candidate, Telugu Desam Party NT Rama Rao's granddaughter Nandamuri Suhasini, also lost in her political debut, despite concentrated campaigning by her uncle and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu.

Third gender candidate threatened

The Bahujan Left Front, which is a coalition of 28 smaller parties led by the CPM, fielded 10 women as well as one transgender candidate, Chandramukhi, from Goshamahal in Hyderabad. A week before the elections, Chandramukhi was reported missing by her team, who feared she had been harmed by rival candidates. She turned up a day later, saying she had been abducted, strapped to a possible explosive and forced to travel across the state in a bid to get her to withdraw her candidature. She refused to do so and was accorded police protection.

Although Chandramukhi lost the elections, the episode highlighted the lack of security for transgender candidates in the political arena even though they are often threatened and ridiculed out of the election fray.

The bright spot among all this gloom for women in politics is Chhattisgarh, which has recorded the highest representation for women in the history of the state. As many as 125 women were in the fray this time, of which 12 candidates made it to the 90-member Assembly, an improvement over the 10 women who won in 2013, 11 in 2008 and five in 2003.

Chhattisgarh Congress sent the maximum number of women to the Assembly, with nine of its women winning their seats. The BJP, BSP and Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC) has one woman legislator each. Notably, Congress leader Shakuntala Sahu, a 27-year-old candidate, defeated Chhattisgarh Assembly speaker Gaurishankar Agrawal in Kasdol constituency by a huge margin of 48,418 votes.

Both the Congress and the BJP had fielded women against their rival star candidates. Against former chief minister and JCC chief Ajit Jogi, the BJP had fielded Archana Porte, while the Congress fielded Atal Bihari Vajpayee's niece Karuna Shukla against former chief minister Raman Singh. Both the women lost.

Women have always been active in politics in Chhattisgarh, led by women from erstwhile royal families during the early days of undivided Madhya Pradesh. Since the first elections in 1951, when Chhattisgarh was part of Central Provinces and Berar and no women were in the fray, till the last elections in 2013 as a new state, 1,037 women fought it out in Assembly elections, of whom 174 succeeded in reaching the Vidhan Sabha.

In undivided Madhya Pradesh, too, most of the women legislators came from regions now in Chhattisgarh. Some constituencies, like Sarangarh, have never had a male MLA since the birth of the state. This time, too, Congress candidate Uttari Ganpat Jaangde won the seat by 52,389 votes.

With inputs from Vandana Agrawal, Ashish Tiwari and Rangoli Agrawal

The authors are freelance writers and members of 101Reporters.com

Updated Date: Dec 14, 2018 09:03:42 IST