Assembly elections: Women make up less than 12% of BJP, Congress candidates
Women account for less than 12% of the candidates fielded by the BJP and the Congress in the current round of assembly elections in five states.
Women account for less than 12% of the candidates fielded by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress in the current round of assembly elections in five states, far below the ambitious target of 33.33% prescribed in the women’s reservation bill passed by Parliament, which will come into effect after the next census and the delimitation exercise.
Out of the 679 seats in the five states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram, the BJP has announced candidates for 643 and the Congress, 666. Of these, the BJP has fielded only 80 women candidates and the Congress, 74.
In the 230-member Madhya Pradesh assembly, elections to which will be held on November 17, the BJP has fielded 28 women and the Congress, 30. In 2018, the corresponding numbers were 24 and 27 respectively.
In the 200-member Rajasthan assembly, elections to which will be held on November 25, the BJP and the Congress have fielded 20 and 28 women candidates, respectively. The corresponding numbers in 2018 were 23 and 27.
In the two-phased election in Chhattisgarh (November 7 and 17), the BJP announced 14 women candidates and the Congress, 3. The Chattisgarh assembly has 90 seats.
In Telangana, which goes to the polls on November 30, the BJP has announced 14 women candidates and Congress, 11.
And in Mizoram, which voted on November 7 for the 40-member assembly, the Congress has fielded two candidates and the BJP four.
The BJP , which has sought to take credit for the passage of the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, the much-awaited bill that reserves 33% seats for women in Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies, during a special session in September, has been conservative in giving tickets to women candidates. As has the Congress, which has sought to take credit for trying to pass the bill during the UPA’s rule.
A BJP functionary, speaking on condition of anonymity, pointed at the “winnability” factor being the reason for this. “The BJP is committed to giving more tickets to women. But at the same time, we look at the winnability of the candidate, especially if the election is a close contest.”
The choice to keep the number of women candidates in the same range as before, he said, was in keeping with the party’s assessment of the “candidates’ ability to win” .
“There is a long-drawn process for deciding candidates, which includes factors such as caste, gender and experience,” he said.
Women are a key constituency for the BJP, with political experts pointing out how the party has gained from their support, largely based on the social welfare schemes designed for them. In states such as Madhya Pradesh, the party is banking on the Ladli Behna Scheme that gives ₹1,250 a month to 12.5 million eligible women to help retain power in the state. Apart from financial empowerment, the party also claims to have enforced 33% reservation for women in party positions to politically empower women.
“We are constantly training new leaders, and this includes women, and those who come from deprived and socially backward sections. After the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill, the party has begun the process of training them for leadership positions,” said a second BJP leader, also requesting anonymity.
A woman leader from the BJP, who has contested multiple elections, however admitted that women tend to lose out on roles and tickets owing to inherent gender biases. “Women are given reservation in Panchayat polls, but till date there is a certain barrier that they cannot cross. In many parts of the country, there still is opposition to women getting lead roles,” she said, asking not to be named
“When I contested for the first time, there was initially a strain between the karyakartas campaigning for me and my team. We have over the years overcome such impediments, but if the party workers are not invested in women candidates doing well, it becomes harder to pull votes,” she added.
A senior Congress strategist pointed out that the party was the first to get the Rajya Sabha’s approval for the women reservation bill in 2010. “We have also introduced women quota in our Working Committee, the highest executive body. In the elections too, we continue to give more space for women candidates. This ratio will certainly improve.”
But a second Congress leader echoed the BJP leader and pointed to the most important factor in “selecting candidates”: “When it comes to crucial elections we have to look at winnability factor.”