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Polls 2003 put women on top

A history of some sort is on the cards. For the first time, India is likely to have five women Chief Ministers simultaneously, writes Vijaya Sharma.

india Updated: Dec 05, 2003 13:21 IST

A history of some sort is on the cards. For the first time, India is likely to have five women Chief Ministers simultaneously.

Parties often carp that they can't field more women candidates because they cannot ensure a win. Well, it has just been proven wrong by the resounding victories of BJP candidates Vasundhara Raje and Uma Bharati in traditionally feudalistic and male bastions: Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Not to forget, Congress strongwoman Shiela Dixit who is in for a second term as Delhi Chief minister.

There's more than that to these assembly polls. For the first time since independence, India may see five states being run by women chief ministers: Shiela Dixit in Delhi, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan, Uma Bharati in Madhya Pradesh with the existing two -- Rabri Devi in Bihar and Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu.

There are other firsts two: It is the first time that the BJP has fielded two women as chief ministerial candidates. In all, BJP fielded 56 women candidates for the four states. Congress did a little better with 65 candidates.

Women in Indian politics form about just 10 per cent of the total contestants. But, in 50 years, just this 10 per cent have brought these remarkable firsts to Indian politics.

Slowly and subtly, the wins perhaps reflect the changing face of the Indian electorate. The wins in feudalistic states may well be due to implementation of 33 per cent reservation for women at the panchayat level where a revolution, without much fanfare, is on. Women have got a hold on their lives and started taking independent decisions in matters of health, education, employment, which may also have contributed to more women voting for women candidates in these two states.

Vasundhara Raje had garnered more than 50 per cent of women's votes in by-elections in Rajasthan last year, too. The reservation at the panchayat level has brought more than a million women in positions of leadership at the grass-roots level, says Ranjana Kumari, Director for Centre for Social Research, New Delhi.

The fiery sanyasin Uma Bharati had recently said in her pre-poll campaigns that if she came to power, she would come as Durga incarnate. "Every woman in India is a Durga incarnate", she had added in an interview on a television channel. She had also said that she was a woman fighting in a male-dominated world and knew what it was to be in minority.

Now is the time perhaps for her to do her bit for the "minority". It remains to be seen whether these "Durgas" will grab this historic opportunity to deal with women's related issues head on or replay the same old story of opportunistic politicking.

List of women chief ministers India has had so far

* 1963-67: Sucheta Kripalani, Uttar Pradesh

* 1972-73 and 1974-76: Nandini Satpathy, Orissa

* 1973-79: Shashikala Gurudatt Kakodkar, Goa, Daman and Diu

* 1980-81: Syeda Anwara Taimur, Assam

* 1988: V.V. Janaki Ramachandra, Tamil Nadu

* 1991-96, 2001 and 2002: J Jayalalitha Jayaram, Tamil Nadu

* 1995, 1997 and 2002-03: Mayawati, Uttar Pradesh

* 1996-97: Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Punjab

* 1997-99, 1999 and 2000: Rabri Devi, Bihar

* 1998: Sushma Swaraj, Delhi

* 1998: Shiela Dixit, Delhi