Madhya Pradesh's efforts at women's empowerment, it seems, are only in name. Most of the women contesting the Bhopal civic body polls are piggy-backing on their husbands to cross the electoral hurdle, their names tagged to their more famous politician spouses.
More than 100 women are contesting for posts of corporators in 85 wards of Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC), where elections are scheduled for January 31. 42 of the wards are reserved to ensure bigger representation of women in the affairs of the capital.
"In this patriarchal society, even in politics male members are the preferred descendants, females come into the picture if they are left with no other options and if they have to save their empire," said Sadhna Pandey, a professor in political science.
But the candidates themselves found nothing wrong with the name-game. Seema Praveen Saxena, contesting from ward number 30, said it was a Hindu tradition of women bearing the husband's name. "I would not hesitate to take anybody's help for betterment of my ward including my husband," said Seema.
When HT tried contacting other candidates on their mobile phones, and most of the calls were attended to by their husbands. "Actually, the party (BJP) could not find a strong candidate from my ward…therefore, they selected my wife for it," said Shyam Meena, husband of Manphool Meena who is contesting from ward number 82.
When Meena was asked for his wife's mobile number, he said it was only because of elections that he was attending to the calls. "Otherwise, this number belongs to Manphool and she would attend to the calls after the elections," he explained.
Another leader who spoke on the condition of anonymity had a more pragmatic outlook on the matter. "We nurture our wards and if in the draw of lots they are reserved for women, we are left with no option but to give our wife or some other family-member a chance."
Incidentally, the 230-member state assembly has just 29 women MLAs, three of them ministers. Women rights activist and coordinator MP Election Watch, Rolly Shivhare, however, said things will start changing soon.
"The government has reserved 50% seats for women in local self government bodies. This is a positive step and has resulted in women's participation in politics. It would take some time and conditions would improve further when women would not need anybody's help for identity," Shivhare added.