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Caste dynamics: Women and Muslims rank low on parties’ priority list

india Updated: Mar 25, 2014 09:57 IST

Caste dynamics has influenced parties this time too. While the BJP, intent on keeping its vote-bank intact, has again come up with a formula that further shrank the political space for women and Muslims, Congress fares a little better with a higher number of women candidates.

But non-career politicians, such as film stars, journalists and academics, have found a somewhat bigger space as the parties’ unique selling proposition.

Also, another common thread among the three major contenders is preference to former top bureaucrats. The BJP has fielded five former IPS and three IAS officers, AAP four retired babus and the Congress five.

A look at the tickets distributed so far by the Congress (390), BJP (402) and the Aam Aadmi Party (339) shows that women — who account for 49% of the 814 million voters – got only 11% of tickets.

The BJP has chosen 37 women compared to 44 in 2009 elections and the Congress 55 – 12 more than in the last elections – while the debutant Aam Aadmi Party has put up 34 women candidates.

Representation of women in 15th Lok Sabha was just 11% compared to the global average of 21%.

Ranjana Kumar of the Centre for Social Research said, “Parties have the mindset that women may not be able to win on their own without any association with the glamour world.”

The women who have managed to get nominated this time largely have Bollywood and dynastic connections. Examples: Gul Panag of the Aam Aadmi Party, Kirron Kher and Hema Malini of the BJP and Nagma and Mausam Noor — from the family of the late Ghani Khan Choudhury – of the Congress.

The Muslims also have failed to find much political space. The BJP, which has been trying of late to woo them, nominated only six Muslim candidates compared to 37 by the Aam Aadmi Party and 29 by the Congress.

This was despite BJP president Rajnath Singh announcing that he was willing to “apologise for any mistake” and the party boasting of Muslim presence in PM nominee Narendra Modi’s rallies.

The Congress, which came out with many programmes for minorities during the 10 years of UPA rule, has also not given a significantly better representation to Muslims in tickets distribution.

It has so far announced the names of only 29 Muslim candidates, with UP having nine and Gujarat not even one. Its prominent Muslim candidates in UP are foreign minister Salman Khurshid from Farrukhabad, cricketer Mohamad Kaif from Phulpur and Nagma from Meerut.

AAP gets the top ranking, choosing 37 Muslims. Party convenor Arvind Kejriwal attacked the Congress for not doing enough for Muslims and termed the BJP as a communal party. Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Rushaid, former BSP MP Illyas Asmi and Mahmood Hussain Rehmani are the party’s prominent Muslim candidates.

But when it comes to glitz, the BJP has outsmarted everyone else, fielding about a dozen candidates from the film industry — some of them are even from West Bengal, where the party is not considered to be a serious force.

It has also fielded three journalists, including Pratap Simha, who wrote a book on Narendra Modi. AAP has given a little more space to scribes — with half a dozen having been chosen.

A large number of social activists, such as Medha Patkar, Anjali Damania, S P Udayakumar and Soni Sori, are making electoral debuts this time. AAP has also roped in corporate bigwigs – former banker Meera Sanyal and former Infosys executive V Balakrishnan, among others.

Congress has fielded most career politicians with a few exceptions like Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, cricketer Mohamad Kaif and actors Nagma and Ravi Kishan.

This shows the two national parties are still banking on career politicians — who meet the demands of the caste dynamics — with close to 90% tickets having been offered to them.

“We cannot debunk that caste is a reality in Indian politics. So, parties decide on ticket distribution on caste lines,” C P Bhambhri, political analyst and former faculty at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said.