NDA 'progressive' about women in polls 2004
Jaya Jaitly former President of the Samata Party and an active advocate of greater representation of women in the political system, spoke to Pragya Joshi on the issue of, 'do women matter in election 2004?'.
Being a Part of the NDA alliance- as an important alliance partner – what has been the way to move the Women's Reservation bill forward in the last five years?
NDA has always been committed to the passing of the bill, with a consensual approach, so that there are no tensions and fights. There are many on the floor of the house that feel that the bill should be put for debate. What I have never been able to understand is that why it cannot even be discussed or debated? It is, in all its respect a very historic bill.
Having 33% reservation of seats is something that is not agreeable to many and there has to be a delimitation of seats. By this, one means that there need to be more seats in the Lok Sabha, and that would not threaten anyone. Since the number of seats has not proportionally gone up, women’s political reservation becomes a threat to persons in the political fray.
Are you in the fray, in any way?
I have consciously tried to keep out of it and there are some personal reasons for it.
How can we deconstruct JD (U)’s stand on the issue of women’s representation in the elections 2004?
Theoretically everyone is for it. But practically no one upholds it. Basically no party wants to admit that they would willingly lose their 33% seats to women. There are parties that ask for the percentages to be brought down from 33% to 20%, as if haggling over the price of potatoes!
I can understand that there are practical problem in its representation. Rotational representation is difficult.
In the JD(U) there has to be reservation for the backward class. Thus there is a quota within a quota. By making this demand you have to do a minority based reservations. Any form of justice and equity has to bring in gender justice.
Why are women in power in the executive often given softer portfolios such as gender or health and kept away from high-end hard ones such as defense or external affairs?
Well I don’t necessarily agree. Women in the past have been given coal, power, energy and parliamentary affairs Jayawanti Mehta was given power, Mamata Banerjee was handling railways, which is again very important. I think this stereotype has been overcome.
What about parties in specific? How are parties such as the BJP, Congress, and the party that you have been closely associated with- pushing for the women’s empowerment?
Well, BJP was regressive, but they are now the most progressive and they have pushed for far many more women to campaign in the upcoming elections than even the JD (U). And JD (U) is a party with its socialist leaning and quite liberal in their approach. BJP has promoted women and given tickets to more women than many other parties. One has to give them credit for that. On the other hand if you look at the other parties you will see that AIADMK’s Jayalalitha and Congress’ Sonia Gandhi promoting only themselves.
If you inherently believe in the empowerment of gender- why has the BJP/NDA not been able to aggressively push forward the agenda for greater women empowerment in our democracy?
You will have to keep in mind that NDA coalition comprises of parties that are not so progressive. Then you have a Mulayam Singh who says only 10% of the seats are to be reserved. When the bill is tabled then Laloo Prasad Yadav makes a big joke of it and this is the same guy also uses his wife his proxy in Bihar politics.
Practically what happens is that you have a business advisory committee that decides issues that should be debated. And by convention the vote on it has to be unanimous. Even if one member says that this should not be considered then there is problem. The JD(U), of course, stands for the reservations of Other Backward Castes.
Has there been an attempt to consolidate women as a vote bank or as a pressure group? Are parties courting women as a separate vote bank? Is gender used as a dividing line just much as, caste or ethnicity to mobilise votes?
They are not courted as a separate vote bank. But, there is an implicit recognition that women voters can make a huge difference. However, I also believe that women come together on more issue-based mobilization. After Indira Gandhi’s death, there was a big sympathy wave. Similarly in a coalition, they do not talk of ideology but governance. "Bijli" (electricity), "sadak" (roads), "pani" (water) are the prime concern for most women and the NDA has laid out the agenda quite carefully.
The Left gives the impression that it is gender-sensitive. Do you think that if Left gets the centre-stage they will be able to tackle issue of women’s empowerment in politics more sensitively?
Left has always taken a high moral ground. But where does the Left have any one in the party forefront? There is no woman in the politburo. They are good at articulating without losing anything of their own, which is complete hypocrisy.