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February 20, 1998


Parties find women candidates an unattractive proposition

From Gargi, Maitreyi to Rani Laxmibai to our present-day Arundhati Roy and Kalpana Chawla -- they have down the ages challenged the very basis of patriarchal worldview, but the greybeards of Indian politics are not yet convinced.

Their attitude governing the selection of candidates for the present Lok Sabha election upholds the tradition of male bias in the political arena of a country which not many years ago was being ruled by a powerful woman who, like any of her able male colleagues, knew the permutations and combinations of the power game well.

In the 50th year of its Independence, when India's corridors of power are still reverberating with vociferous demand for 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament raised by women politicians cutting across party lines, the number of women candidates in the fray has gone down significantly.

The National Commission of Women had approached all major political parties before the elections, urging them to nominate more women candidates. It had also prepared a list of prospective women candidates asking the parties to choose from it.

However, a random survey of some states, considered more politically active, reveals that despite their good credentials, women politicians still remain the 'par katis' (short haired, a disparaging term used by Janata Dal president Sharad Yadav in Parliament to describe women politicians during the debate on the women's reservation bill).

West Bengal and Bihar are perhaps the only states where the number of women contestants did not see a downslide whereas in Karnataka, it touched a low of ten, down from 70 in the last polls.

In West Bengal, which goes to poll on February 22 and 28, there are 21 women in the fray out of a total number of 272 contestants. However, while their number has remained same as in the last Lok Sabha election, in percentage terms it has gone up since the total number of candidates has come down from 1996's figure of 397.

According to figures available with the state election offices, the highest number of women candidates has been recorded from the Jadavpur Lok Sabha seat.

In Maharashtra, there are 24 women candidates, 18 less than in the 1996 poll, for the 48 Lok Sabha seats, which amounts to a negligible 6.36 per cent of the total candidates in the fray.

The CPI-M in the state has one woman among the three candidates it fielded, while the BJP has one among 25, Shiv Sena one among 22 and the Congress, two among the 40.

Thus, the major political parties in the state -- which has registered a steady decline in the number of women candidates in recent elections -- have fielded only six women, accounting for a miniscule 1.59 per cent of the total of 377 candidates.

In Andhra Pradesh, out of 391 candidates vying for 42 Lok Sabha seats, there are only 15 women -- a stark contrast to the 91 in 1996. Out of them, seven are from the ruling TDP, three from the Congress, two of the BJP and the rest are independents.

Ironically, women voters outnumber men in the state which has 491,40,231 registered voters.

In Karnataka, where the first phase of polling was held on February 16 and the second phase is due on February 22, there are only ten women in the fray, a sharp decline from last election's figure of 70.

However, Union minister Ratnamala Savanoor, a greenhorn, was the only woman candidate who emerged victorious in 1996, defeating veteran Congressman and former Union minister B Shankaranand at Chikkodi.

The first woman candidate in the state to contest in parliamentary elections was Dr Sarojini Mahishi from Dharwad in 1962. In 1980, out of 190 contestants, only one was a woman while in 1991, three out of 15 women had emerged victorious.

The high profiles candidates in this election include Margaret Alva of the Congress, the Lok Shakti's Jayanthi -- a well known actress but political greenhorn -- and the BJP's Susheela Shivappa.

In Bihar, where the second phase of polling will be held on February 22, there are 21 women contestants in the fray in 13 out of the state's 54 parliamentary seats. In 1996, there were 14 women in the fray.

While the RJD and the JD have fielded five women each, the BJP has put up only two and its ally Samata Party one, the Congress two, the CPI-ML two, Shiv Sena and Samajwadi Party one each.

In Uttar Pradesh, 55 women candidates are contesting in 35 constituencies. The state has 85 Lok Sabha seats. There are 37 women contesting from various recognised parties while the rest 18 are Independents. Out of the 37, the Congress has nine, the SP six, the BJP five, the JD three, the BSP one and the remaining 13 are affiliated to unrecognised registered parties.

In Marxist-ruled Tripura, where both assembly and Lok Sabha elections were held on February 16, there were 20 women in the fray for the 60-seat assembly while a lone tribal woman tried her luck in one of the two parliamentary constituencies.

The CPI-M had fielded five women in the assembly polls while BJP, for the first time contesting in all assembly seats, also put up an equal number.

Madhuri Koloi alias Rudra Paul was the state's only woman candidate contesting from the Tripura East parliamentary constituency.

In Rajasthan, which also went to polls on February 16, a total of 20 women, including a former Union minister, two former maharanis and one former princess, were in the fray, showing a downslide as a record number of 25 women contested in the 1996 polls.

The ruling BJP allotted tickets to two women while three were on a Congress ticket. High-profile among them were Mahila Congress president and former Union minister Girija Vyas from Udaipur seeking a hat-trick, former maharani of Dholpur Vasundhara Raje of BJP from Jhalawar and former princess of Bharatpur, Krishnendra Kaur 'Deepa' from Bharatpur, contesting on a Samajwadi Party ticket.

The first woman representative from the state in the lower house was the former maharani of Jaipur, Gayatri Devi, who won in 1962. The 1952 elections had two women -- one from the Jan Sangh and the other an Independent -- and both lost. In the last Lok Sabha election, there were four winners: Vasundhara Raje and Divya Singh (both BJP) and Girija Vyas and Usha Meena (both Congress).


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