At 895 per 1,000 males, the poor sex ratio has not been on the agenda of political parties in Punjab. But the Congress is now trying to woo women voters by promising a 33% job quota. After launching schemes for youth voters — 50 lakh smart phones with free data and calling for one year and ‘one job, per family’ — Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh on Sunday announced to reserve 33% government jobs for women, as many seats in educational institutions and allotment of residential and commercial plots in all categories.
Taking a leaf out of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s poll promise which has been implemented by his government, Amarinder said this will be first among the many steps the party intends to take towards women empowerment. “We will ensure women get reservation in jobs and educational institutes and the poll manifesto being prepared by Manpreet Badal will provide a detailed framework for the same,” he said.
According to party sources, Amarinder’s new move has come after studying the effect of Nitish’s promise on poll verdict in Bihar. Buoyed by the promise of liquor ban and job quota, women had outnumbered men in voting during Bihar elections and emerged as a stronger vote bank than the caste factor. Though the Congress admits the idea has been inspired by Nitish, it claims it has worked on the political, economic and social gains from the move.
“Our poll manifesto is not a cut-paste cliche. It will be a well-researched document. Studies by policy research institutions show that households where women are economically empowered create more assets and do higher savings than where they are not. The quota will extend to all government jobs from executive jobs such as Punjab Civil Services (PCS) to non-executive jobs of Class 2 and 3 employees,” Punjab Congress spokesperson Raman Subramaniyam, who is working on the promise along with Badal, told HT.
The party has its own theory on the political gains though. “Many Punjab youth have become goons of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Women are more non-political and comprise at least 49% of the state’s population. We need women in jobs as women will be more comfortable with them,” he said.
Interestingly, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) too was mulling announcing 35% reservation in government jobs following a recommendation by the Punjab Governance Reforms Commission, but no announcement to this effect has been made. In neighbouring Haryana, which shares the notoriety of being worse-off than Punjab in sex ratio, the first move has been to take the number of women cops in the police force to 10% to deal with a high (over 70%) rate of crime against women. Before Nitish, the Madhya Pradesh government of Shivraj Patil too had given its nod to 33% reservation for women in jobs last year.
Ironically, while championing the cause of women, the Congress has announced names of just eight women among the 77 seats announced so far, making for just 10%. Three women MLAs have given up their claims on seats for husband, sons and brother-in-law, including Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh’s wife Preneet Kaur who has left the family seat of Patiala (urban) for him. All three women MLAs were adjudged as “winnable” in the party surveys. Amarinder defended the move, saying, “If my wife has given her seat to me, is there something wrong in it?” Congress general secretary in-charge of Punjab offered a different consolation: “The number of women candidates in Congress will be higher than those fielded by the SAD and the AAP in Punjab.”