Reports on the importance of the woman voter who holds the key to the election have been surfacing with regularity in recent months. Now that election season is upon us, be prepared to hear more about the innate wisdom of women voters and how political parties cannot afford to ignore them. But none of this means that women will be given more tickets to contest though a small beginning has been made by the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha which has apportioned 33 % reservation for women in the Lok Sabha elections and the Trinamool which has given an impressive 40% seats to women. However, I seriously doubt whether any of the national parties will follow suit at the moment.
Even if half the women candidates in Odisha or Bengal were to win, the proportion of women elected across India is still likely to be very small. This is because they are most often considered as not winnable candidates even though there are no studies to support the theory that men are more likely to win than women. For all the anti-dynasty talk, most politicians will fall back on a woman relative in the absence of a viable male one. So we have dynasties headed by Sharad Pawar, that of the late Pramod Mahajan, the Gandhis, the Badals, UP’s Yadavs, the late Karunanidhi and so on, all of which have women in the political fray.
A valiant attempt has been made by the National Women’s Party (NWP) which was launched recently in Mumbai. The party has ambitiously said it will contest half of the 545 Lok Sabha seats in these elections. It will also work towards 50% reservation in the Lok Sabha. Its goal is to remove gender disparity in politics in a patriarchal society. Far from 50%, I think we all know by now that no political party will get the Women’s Reservation Bill passed in its current form. Otherwise it would not have been hanging fire for so many years and through the tenures of different governments. But it sounds like a lovely idea and perfect for sound bytes, come the elections. The latest to promise to get the Bill through is Rahul Gandhi, subject to his coming to power.
Getting 33% reservation is not going to be easy and perhaps not even worth pursuing. But there is nothing to stop political parties from giving more tickets to women as Naveen Patnaik and Mamata Banerjee propose to do. It is baffling that most political parties don’t tap into the vast talent pool offered by the women in the panchayati raj. While it is true that many of them may have started off as rubber stamps for their male relatives, it would be no exaggeration to say many have come into their own now and done splendid work in their areas. These are women who have recognition in their panchayats, have done a lot of development work, ensured that central funds are used for the purpose they were meant to be used for. Yet, women panchayat leaders rarely make it to the assembly, let alone the Lok Sabha. If more such women were given tickets, the development agenda, which seems forgotten now, would be back on the table.
But why blame only male politicians and rant about patriarchy? Even parties headed by women have rarely bothered to find talented women and give them tickets. When she was the head of the AIADMK, J Jayalalithaa’s word was unchallengeable. But she completely disregarded women as potential leaders. The same goes for Mayawati and even the Congress party headed by a woman for many years. The winnability theory is flawed. Any candidate that a party puts up should have the benefit of its full backing. The woman then has a level playing field and the winnability factor will be taken care of.
Affirmative action at the panchayat level was meant to create the women leaders of the future. But in actual fact, it has not broken any glass ceilings at all. Politics does not seem to follow the trend in many other professions where women are moving ahead. If Naveen Patnaik and Mamata Banerjee’s initiative works, others may be tempted to try to emulate it. But for the moment, greater participation of women in the political process, apart from as voters, is not even being talked about except for the tired old shibboleths of the reservation, which will not happen in hurry.
Mar 16, 2019 20:51 IST