As International Women’s Day is being celebrated, an obvious question that comes to mind is: Why are there no women leaders in top positions of power in Maharashtra?
While Mamata Banerjee and J Jayalalithaa are busy planning their electoral battles to retain power in their states in April, and Mayawati is a serious contender in next year’s UP Assembly elections, why has Maharashtra not seen any woman politician as a chief ministerial contender? Forget chief minister, we have never seen a woman becoming home minister or finance minister; we have never seen a woman officer as the chief secretary, Mumbai’s civic chief or as police commissioner. The positions of power have always been out of bounds for women in Maharashtra, a state that calls itself a progressive.
There are just a handful of women among the top leaders of the main political parties in the state.
The BJP has rural development minister Pankaja Munde, the NCP has MP Supriya Sule as part of their parties’ top decision making teams. The Sena has Neelam Gorhe in its top brass while the Congress has none.
Traditionally, the idea of our political parties to make women part of their decision-making process meant tokenism: Head of the party’s women’s wing, who sits quietly as decisions are taken by the party’s top leaders. Or it is the dynasty— daughters or wives of powerful leaders who have to toe the line of their fathers or husbands.
Since Maharashtra came into existence in 1960, there have only been a handful of women leaders who made it to the top brass of their parties on their own, and have influenced the party’s decisions. We remember Mrinal Gore, Ahilya Rangnekar, former president Pratibha Patil and Prabha Rau.
Even in the current context, most prominent women leaders come from political dynasties, although Pankaja Munde or Supriya Sule have shown they have independent minds and the potential to make it to the top.
Then, there are few exceptions like Gorhe, who came from the socialist movement without a family cushion. Can any of them occupy top positions of power? How tough is it for women politicians to make a bid for the same?
There obviously is a glass ceiling, they say. When they try hard to make their space, they face obstacles from insecure male colleagues. Often, parties think women cannot handle the obvious tools to win an election— money power and muscle power— the way their male colleagues handle them.
While several politicians build their support base through a particular community or caste or an interest group, such as a cooperative sector, women politicians do not get such an advantage.
It is quite strange: Being a woman, they find themselves at a position of disadvantage, but at the same, time they can’t build a strong support base among women.
“Women voters are divided into classes, castes and even sections such as rural and urban. There is no strong support base,”says Gorhe, a prominent women’s rights leader in Maharashtra. “There is no networking among women thinkers, politicians and support groups, as is seen in the west.”
In fact, the hurdles for women politicians begin at the very first step in the corridors of power: the elections.
Parties give fewer tickets to women candidates and even among them, relatives of male politicians get priority, while several capable women politicians don’t even get a chance to contest.
As we celebrate women’s day, let’s hope more women become a part of the top brass of political establishments and wield power.
Let’s also hope it would be a step towards gender equality, as policies of parties and governments run by them would be influenced by women politicians.