Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Sunday said the Biju Janata Dal would field 33 per cent women among its candidates in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, terming the move a 'benchmark for women empowerment' in the country.
Making the announcement at a rally in Kendrapara, the BJD president said the 'historic step' would lead the way in empowering women.
"If India is to lead the world, if India has to compete with countries like America and China and become an advanced nation, women empowerment is the only answer," he said.
Patnaik's decision would mean that the ruling BJD will field women candidates for at least seven out of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state. At present, there are three women Lok Sabha MPs from Odisha.
The BJD had won 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in 2014.
Patnaik, however, did not make any such announcement for the assembly polls which is slated to be held along with the Lok Sabha polls.
Odisha's 147-member assembly has 12 women MLAs at present.
In November last year, a resolution was passed unanimously in the state assembly seeking 33 per cent reservation for women in state legislative assemblies and Parliament.
The BJD supremo said he had sent a proposal in this regard to all the national parties and chief ministers.
"I call upon all the national parties that they should be true to their words and must follow what they propagate for women empowerment," he said.
Patnaik reminded the crowd that his father and former chief minister Biju Patnaik implemented 33 per cent reservation for women for the first time in the country, in the three-tier panchayati raj institutions and government jobs.
The state government enhanced the reservation for women to 50 per cent in panchayats in 2012.
Patnaik's announcement, however, was dubbed by opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress as a 'pre-poll game plan' to woo women voters.
Union Minister and BJP leader Dharmendra Pradhan said reservation of seats for women is 'welcome', but the timing of the BJD's announcement, ahead of the elections, is nothing but a 'gimmick to grab the votes' of women electors.
Terming the move as a 'tool' to influence female voters, a senior Congress leader said his party has no objection if women get 33 per cent reservation in state assemblies and Parliament, but the BJD is using it as a 'last ditch effort' to get votes as its 'popularity has nosedived'.
Patnaik had in December last urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to initiate steps to pass the Women's Reservation Bill, pending in the Lok Sabha.
He had subsequently written to the chief ministers of all the states and Union territories seeking their cooperation to secure 33 per cent reservation for women in legislative assemblies and Parliament.