Congress’ move to field more women raises the bar for national parties, will inspire women to ask for ‘hissedari’
In UP, which is under-represented by women legislators, Gandhi’s announcement meant that out of 403 assembly seats, Congress will give at least 160 tickets to women candidates.
In 2019, Odisha chief minister and Biju Janata Dal leader Naveen Patnaik and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee had pledged to give more representation to women. Women account for 41.6% of BJD’s total strength in the Lok Sabha and 40.9% of TMC’s. The TMC had, in the assembly polls, fielded 48 women out of 288, more than any of its rivals and better than all the parties contesting in other states then, but fewer than its own record in the Lok Sabha.
A pro-woman campaign was launched by Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and followed up by other parties such as LJP, BJP and RJD in 2020. The JD(U) gave tickets to 43 women, but only six managed to win. A total of 371 women contested the 2020 elections, against 273 in 2015, and 26 of them won as compared to 28 in 2015. When it comes to political representation, Chhattisgarh and Haryana have done better than others, according to data by the Association for Democratic Reforms.
Many southern parties known for their pro-women policies were seen fielding fewer women. In the 2021 TN assembly polls, the representation of women was the lowest in 20 years, and has one of the lowest ratio of women MLAs (5%) in the country. While in Bihar the Communist parties fielded 29 candidates, of whom only one was a woman, experts point out that in UP and Bihar, a greater number of women candidates belong to political families.
In UP, women account for 11% of the BJP legislators, a stark improvement from 1.8% in 1989. Women constitute 46% of the voters of UP, according to Election Commission data. While the BJP fielded the highest number of women in the state in 2017 –– 43 out of 384 candidates –– the SP gave tickets to 33 women. Eleven out of 114 of Congress candidates were women, while the Mayawati-led BSP that contested from all 400 seats, only fielded 19 women. All political parties put together gave only 96 tickets to women candidates.
“In the politics of UP which is centred around caste, people are yet to look at gender separately from their ‘biradari’ (community) which is why during the 2012 election, the SP had 34 women candidates of whom 22 had won. But, in 2017, the SP fielded 42 women candidates of whom only seven could win. Many who contested were from political families, but they also lost, meaning it’s easy to get a ticket if your family has the muscle and money but winnability is not certain,” political analyst Alok Srivasatva said.
Seventeen of the 34 women who won in UP in 2017 were from the BJP. However, in other states in the same year, the number of women the BJP nominated as candidates was fewer. Only five out of 70 candidates in Uttarakhand were women, while in Goa, it just fielded one woman out of 35. Two out of 23 candidates in Punjab were women as were two out of 60 in Manipur, according to EC data.
MP and Rajasthan have also seen a dip in women representation compared to the past. But, the Lok Sabha in 2019 elected 78 women MPs, of whom 40 were from the BJP, improving its gender representation. The previous Lok Sabha had 65 women MPs.
Tara Krishnaswamy, founder of Political Shakti, which bats for more women’s representation in state legislatures and parliament, welcomed Priyanka Gandhi’s announcement, saying it has the potential to bring in transformative changes in national politics and also on the ground, in UP.
“It is a signal to women that they are welcome in politics, and also to other parties to raise the bar. Regional parties have done this before, and followed it with other policies which are important. Representation of women in local bodies through policies has brought in a positive change, but there is often the issue of interference of male relatives. In the assembly, it is the woman who would speak and that kind of decision making will benefit the state, particularly in empowering women.”
“It is also a politically astute move in a politics that is dominated by caste and religion. The challenges on the ground will be many, and more than the electoral outcome, it is the intent to bring change that should count,” she said.
Priyanka Gandhi, when asked about the electoral outcome of such a move, said inclusion of women in politics was a process and efforts had to be made to sustain it. “Is baar safal nahin hongi, toh agli baar hongi (If they are not successful this time, then they will win next time). It is not a problem if the women in power are influenced by the men in the family as in the long run they will realise their power and make decisions.”