71 all – BJP, Congress score equal on women contestants

By Parul Abrol, IANS,

New Delhi : The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may be on two sides of the political spectrum but are uncannily alike when it comes to giving women representation — 71 to be precise. That’s the number of women candidates both the parties are fielding in the assembly elections to six states.

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In what can only be an unhappy coincidence for those aspiring for gender equality in politics, the Congress has given 71 women tickets to contest the elections out of its total list of 717; ditto with the BJP that has 71 women contestants of its 639 candidates.

Their reasons for the abysmally low representation of women is also the same.

“In an election, the winnability of the candidate also has to be seen,” BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad told IANS.

As if echoing him, Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed added: “We try to give priority to members of the weaker section of the society but a candidate’s winnability factor has to be kept in mind. We also go by the feedbacks based on the ground reports.”

An umbraged Amarjeet Kumar, general secretary of the Delhi unit of the Communist Party of India (CPI), said that until constituencies were reserved for women nothing would change.

“Unless constituencies are reserved for women, compelling all political parties to field only women candidates other considerations that stop from women being given the ticket will come up.”

Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj couldn’t agree more. Women, she told IANS during an earlier conversation, make for better leaders.

“If a man thinks of putting up a fountain from development budget, a woman thinks of handpump that would insure regular water supply to people,” she said.

Ironically, both parties also support the women’s reservation bill, setting aside 33 percent of the seats in parliament for women.

Political analyst G.V.L. Narasimha Rao finds the attitude of the parties strange.

“In rural constituencies, accessibility and visibility are pitted against women. But it is quite to the contrary in cities. Women are seen as more honest candidates,” Rao pointed out.

He said women were finding it difficult to make inroads as politics had become more competitive, sought after and a “highly paying profession”.

“Seats are often given to the highest bidder. One has to grease palms to make your way up. Since many are not economically independent, they find it difficult to find a place,” he said.

The voices of protest are slowly making themselves heard.

Earlier this month on Nov 5, for instance, the women’s wings of the Delhi BJP, Mahila Morcha, protested at the party office about the inadequate representation of women candidates.

While the Congress has a woman president in Sonia Gandhi, the BJP boasts of 33 percent reservation to women in the party’s organisational set up.

“We had seven union ministers in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and two women chief ministers, though Uma Bharati is no longer with us,” BJP’s Prasad said.