Congress, BJP not fair to the fair sex in Himachal?

By Vishal Gulati, IANS,

Shimla : The two main parties in Himachal Pradesh have not put up a single woman candidate for the general elections even though the fair sex constitutes 49 percent of the electorate and is “more proactive” than men when it comes to voting.

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No woman figures in the candidates list of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress for the four parliamentary seats from the state – Shimla, Kangra, Mandi and Hamirpur – where polling will be held May 13.

“Though the ruling BJP has increased women’s reservation in all rural and urban civic bodies from 33 percent to 50 percent, it has handed out a raw deal to the fair sex in the allotment of party tickets,” Vepa Rao, a former head of the department of journalism, Himachal Pradesh University, told IANS.

“Women, especially in rural areas, are more active than men, be it in the fields or while tending to livestock.”

In the last parliamentary elections in 2004, the Congress had fielded a woman candidate, Pratibha Singh, from Mandi. The sitting MP from the constituency, she is the wife of Congress leader and five-time former chief minister Virbhadra Singh.

Prior to this, the Congress had fielded woman candidates thrice after Himachal Pradesh achieved statehood in 1971. They were Chandresh Kumari – twice for the Kangra seat (1984 and 1989) – and Pratibha Singh – once for Mandi (1998).

The BJP has never fielded a woman candidate in parliamentary elections in the state.

This is the state of affairs despite election officials admitting that women turn out in large numbers to vote.

“In this state, women are more proactive, especially in rural areas, when it comes to exercising franchise,” said Anil Khachi, the state chief electoral officer.

So far, only two woman candidates have managed to secure a berth in parliament from Himachal Pradesh. While Chandresh Kumari won the Kangra seat in 1984, Pratibha Singh was elected from Mandi in 2004.

This time Pratibha Singh has decided to opt out of the elections citing personal reasons. Her husband, Virbhadra Singh, has been pitted by the Congress in Mandi against the BJP’s three-time MP, Maheshwar Singh.

Chandresh Kumari, who tasted defeat in Dharamsala in the 2007 state assembly elections, is now contesting the parliamentary election from Jodhpur in Rajasthan. She married into the erstwhile royal family of Kangra.

Both the BJP and their Congress have their excuses ready.

“Our party (the BJP) has taken special steps to empower women. As far as the Lok Sabha elections are concerned, the hill state has just four seats. Winnability is the biggest factor that goes in favour of the candidate,” state BJP chief Jai Ram Thakur said.

State Congress chief Kaul Singh Thakur said: “This time we had decided to allot tickets to all sitting MPs, but Pratibha Singh herself opted out of the fray.

“But we are still fair with women as we have a woman as the Rajya Sabha member (Viplove Thakur) and a woman as leader of the opposition (Vidya Stokes).”

Himachal Pradesh has 2,239,959 women voters out of the 4,541,072 electorate. The highest number of women voters – 589,158 – is in Kangra, followed by Hamirpur (584,261), Mandi (542,577) and Shimla (523,963).

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])