For three-time councillor Bhartiben Rana, 50, her present term is the most satisfactory and rewarding one.
This is not because she was elected president of Dholka Nagarpalika in December 2015. But for the first time, with an equal representation of male and female members in the local body, she feels a sense of empowerment.
With an amendment to the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws Act, 2009, the Anandiben Patel government — the first to be headed by a woman in the state — increased women’s representation in local bodies from 33% to 50%. The state also increased women’s quota in all government departments, including police, from 27% to 33%.
This is probably the biggest social change that Gujarat has seen after Narendra Modi moved to Delhi on becoming the Prime Minister in 2014. In fact, women’s representation in the state today is the highest ever, be it in administration or in politics.
Yet, on a range of indicators, the gender balance in Gujarat remains skewed — and this remains among the most serious social issues in the state.
The pecking order of administration remains bottom heavy vis-a-vis women’s representation — highest at the base and lowest at the top. Besides, husbands or brothers, in some cases, continue to call the shots behind the curtain as women end up as merely a face.
Picture this: Of the total 159 municipalities, 84 have women presidents, 129 taluka panchayats out of 247 are headed by women and 13 district panchayats of the total 33 have women on top.
But when it comes to the state government, there is just one woman minister, that too of junior rank, in the 25-strong jumbo council of ministers.
This means the number of women representatives shrinks as one moves up the power hierarchy.
Against 53% representation at the municipality level, it comes down to 52% at the taluka panchayat level. It further declines to 39% at the district panchayat level and a mere 4% at the state level.
In the BJP state unit, their representation today is limited to 22%. In 1987, when RSS pracharak Modi was appointed BJP’s organisational secretary, Anandiben was made head of the party’s women’s wing with responsibility of bringing women workers and voters to the party fold.
Exactly 30 years later, she remains the only BJP woman leader to reach the highest echelons in the government.
Besides, not all those who got elected due to increased quota are truly empowered.
In February, Dhiru Solanki, husband of Gir Somnath district panchayat president Manjula, was caught on camera chairing the body’s meeting even though he is not an elected councillor.
BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya says, “We are the only party that has included 33% women leaders in the organisation, right from the booth level to the state body. The BJP also had the highest number of women contestants in assembly and Lok Sabha elections.”
Despite that, women representation at the government level has remained weak. Even in Patel’s ministry, there was only one woman minister, that too of MoS rank.
More worrying are changes in other social development indices such as Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR), according to the Comptroller and Auditor General report tabled in March.
As a result, the state is not in a position to achieve the MMR target of 67 set for the 12th Five-Year Plan ending in March.
While MMR was on the decline between 2004 and 2013 (when it came down by 30%), it constantly rose between 2013 and 2016. From 72 in 2013-2014, MMR rose to 80 and 85 in the following two years respectively.
This was due to several gaps and deficiencies in the implementation of Centre’s Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakram, including the fact that only 33% pregnant women were provided free transportation to hospitals though the state has a wide network of 1,763 ambulances.
The allotment for Modi’s flagship girl child education scheme ‘Vidhyalaxmi Bond’ — wherein bonds of Rs 2,000 were given at the time of her enrolment — has also remained unchanged.
Gujarat Socio-Economic Review reports that the scheme saw a constant increase every year during his rule — Rs 11 crore in 2011, Rs 13 crore in 2013 and Rs 26 crore in 2014.
It has remained at Rs 26 crore since Modi left, according to the Socio-Economic Review, 2016-2017.
(This is the concluding part of HT’s four-part series)