MCD election: Women candidates say they are no pushovers
Out of the 272 wards in Delhi, 138 are reserved for women including SC women. While the AAP tops the list with 145 women candidates, Congress stands second with 144 while BJP has offered 140 seats to women.MCD Elections 2017 Updated: Apr 14, 2017 23:36 IST
Some were pushed by their politically active family members, while others jumped into the fray on the basis of their hard work in the party – but, irrespective of how they landed up on the list of contestants, women candidates in this year’s MCD elections are out to break the city’s narrow perception of them.
Perhaps the most welcome change in this election is that women refuse to be considered a ‘covering candidate’ for husbands, fathers, brothers or relatives active in the political sphere.
Out of the 272 wards in Delhi, 138 are reserved for women including SC women. While the AAP tops the list with 145 women candidates, Congress stands second with 144 while BJP has offered 140 seats to women. Besides, Congress has given tickets to more than 24 candidates who are relatives of office bearers, the BJP has given to nearly 18, whereas AAP claims to have no such candidate.
Congress’ candidate from South Delhi’s Daryaganj ward, Yasmin Kidwai, says it took a lot of persuasion by her family members to pull her into politics, but now that she is onboard she wants to be in the driver’s seat. Her grandmother is Tajdar Babar, a former MLA and a grand old dame of the Delhi Congress. Her uncle Farhad Suri is also a senior Congress leader and is the Leader of Opposition in the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC).
“Yes, I will gain a lot from Mummy (Babar) and my uncle. But, I am not someone who can be put up as a proxy candidate. I am a person who seeks solutions rather than harping on the problems and I have my own plan of action for my ward,” said Kidwai, a documentary filmmaker and a mother of two.
While every candidate is busy doing door-to-door campaigns, BJP’s Veena Virmani from Ramesh Nagar ward in North Delhi has taken up a rather religious style. Tuesday was a busy day for her as it was Hanuman Jayanti and she visited at least half a dozen temples in her ward.
“Places of worship are a good way to connect as we get to meet a lot of people simultaneously. It helps kick start a conversation and if the priest tells the worshippers to support us then it goes a long way. I also feel people tend to relate to a woman more than a man at such sites,” said Veena who holds a Sangeet Prabhakar degree from Allahabad.
Next on her agenda is to make a few visits to the only Gurudwara of the ward. On Good Friday (April 14), she plans to go to a church located in another ward that shares the boundary with Ramesh Nagar. If voted to power, Veena plans to ensure cleanliness and re-develop dispensaries. She would also request the DDA to give North MCD a piece of land where she wants all weekly markets to be shifted.
Veena’s husband Gulshan Virmani, a senior BJP leader, is additional PS to Union minister of Science and Technology Harsh Vardhan and is helping with her daily campaign schedule. “I feel this election is different from the previous one because women are more aware now. I and my husband have equally worked for the party for 30 years. So, I feel no less confident than him about being an efficient councillor,” she said.
Arti Mehra, former Mayor of unified MCD, described the 50% reservation in MCD wards as a “big game changer”. Prior to 2012, Delhi had 33% reservation for women.
“We should understand that the 2012 MCD polls were the first time that 50% reservation was introduced. It was quite new then and time was also less. So the men quickly fielded their wives, sisters, daughters or relatives on behalf of them,” she said.
This notion has somewhat changed now, she felt. “This time most women equally strategized their nominations along with their husbands or family members,” Arti said.
For Promila Gupta, debutante Aam Aadmi Party’s candidate from North Delhi’s Timarpur ward, it was her son Abhishek Gupta who drove her into politics. On Tuesday evening, her campaign got a major boost with the party’s face and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal holding a Jan Sabha in her ward.
Explaining how she is campaigning, Gupta said, “My target is to cover around 400 houses each day. I start meeting people from 5 am. I also four teams who are separately meeting voters and they are managing about 2,000 homes daily. My focus remains on spreading Kejriwalji’s message on cleaning corruption in the MCD and showing how Delhi can be made a clean city.”
Gupta is a member of the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) and heads the team of the city’s women helpline number. Calling herself a self-made woman, she doesn’t see competition in candidates fielded either by the BJP or the Congress.
“I am confident about winning. The lady from BJP is an outsider and does not connect with people. The one from Congress is not so active as her husband is doing all her work,” she said.
If she wins, she would re-develop the MCD school in Wazirabad and ensure regular sweeping and waste collection. “I will continue to help the women in my ward. Most of them complain of domestic violence and I bring them to DCW to get their cases registered,” Gupta added.
For some, winning the councillor’s seat is a gateway to being the mayor of one of the three MCsD as the first year of each civic body is reserved for women. Mayor of East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) Satya Sharma, who has been the councillor from New Usmanpur for a decade says it’s a challenging job but a lot depends on “how bold the woman is.”
“The challenge I face most of the times is that officials do not take me seriously. Besides, there are times when seniors in the House or party leaders would want you to say things they want to. But, it all depends on whether the woman takes a stand or not,” she said.
Fighting from Congress’ ticket in Quraish Nagar is 26-year-old Neha Fatima. Both her brothers are Congress leaders and she was quite honest in confessing that “seat reserved ho gayi na, so unhi ke behalf pe main lad rahi hoon” (the seat got reserved, so I am fighting on my brother’s behalf). Her elder brother Mohammad Naushad who is the councillor from the area is always seen next to her while campaigning.
But Neha has her own plan set if she wins in the ward. “My first priority would be street lights and next would be cleaning of all the nallahs and drains. Pensions is another issue I want to resolve,” she said.
KS Mehra, the former commissioner of the unified MCD, insists that women councillors are more hard working, sincere and honest than their male counterparts. “From my experience, they definitely tend to be less corrupt and are more sensitive to people’s issue,” he said.
The retired IAS officer also said women councillors were most concerned about public health. “In the standing committee meetings, they would articulate their views very strongly on issues like sanitation, cleanliness and fogging to control mosquito breeding. Another common issue raised by them is that of pensions. But that said, a number of them also have good opinions on revenue and taxes,” he added.
Both Arti Mehra and KS Mehra believe that the reservation has made many women think beyond their children and household life. “Even if half of the 138 women candidates evolve themselves as leaders, it still makes a considerable change. We have seen such councillors who couldn’t speak in the meetings when they first started and now are firebrand leaders in their own areas,” they said.