New Delhi: Although the
ongoing assembly elections in five states in India could possibly
come up with two more women chief ministers, there is hardly
anything big to celebrate over the representation of women in this
massive democratic exercise.
While all major parties contesting the April 4- May 10 polls, which
began with the first phase of voting in Assam Monday, support the
women's reservation bill, this is not reflected in the number of
women contestants on the field.
The bill, which provides for 33 percent reservation for women in
parliament and state assemblies, was passed by the Rajya Sabha last
year but is awaiting the nod from the Lok Sabha.
Apart from Assam, where the second phase of voting will be held
April 11, the other states going to the polls are West Bengal (six
phases - April 18, 23, 27, May 3, 7 and 10), Kerala (April 13),
Tamil Nadu and the union territory of Puducherry (both April 13).
The results will be announced May 13.
In West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress led by Railway Minister Mamta
Banerjee, in alliance with the Congress, is challenging the
decades-long rule by the Left Front.
In Tamil Nadu, AIADMK leader and former chief minister J.
Jayalalithaa is giving a tough time to the ruling DMK-Congress
Political experts predict positive results for both the AIADMK and
the Trinamool Congress, which presents the possibility of
Jayalalithaa returning to the chief minister's post in Tamil Nadu
and Banerjee becoming West Bengal's first woman chief minister.
That is about all for women politicians to cheer about, at least in
this round of elections.
In Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK is contesting from 160 out of the 234
assembly constituencies. Among the contesters only 13 are women -
making it approximately eight percent representation.
The ruling DMK, led by Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, has fielded
119 candidates, 11 among them women, making it 9 percent.
The scene is less impressive in neighbouring Puducherry, where only
one woman candidate, DMK's Geetha Anand, is in the fray out of 167
candidates for the 30 seats. She is contesting from the Neravy
constituency in the Karaikal region.
The Trinamool Congress has fielded 34 women among the 228 seats it
is contesting in West Bengal, making it 14 percent.
The left parties, which have been spearheading the movement for 33
percent reservation for women, have 15.8 percent representation of
women in their list.
Among the 10 left ally parties, the Communist Party of India-Marxist
(CPI-M) and the Forward Bloc have 41 and four women candidates
In Kerala, which has 140 assembly seats, the ruling Left Democratic
Front (LDF) has put up 14 women candidates, which is 10 percent,
while the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) has eight women
In Assam, there are 447 male candidates and 38 women in the first
phase of polling. In the second phase it is 449 and 47.
"When it comes to elections, nominations are made on the basis on
winnabilty of a candidate, and usually women are left behind," said
Mahesh Rangarajan, a political analyst.
"Very few women in India own properties, few are highly educated and
most of them do not wield much power. Electoral politics is about
power and a section of society has been deprived of power
completely. It should not be a surprise if they are missing from
politics," he said.
According to Rangarajan, politics being one the most male-dominated
fields, women, even though they play the important role as voters,
fail to rise up to governing positions.
"Even in south Indian states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala where the
social conditions for women are much better than in other parts of
the country, we see only a minuscule percentage of women contesting
elections," he added.
Analyst G.V.L. Narsimha Rao agrees.
"Politics is one of the toughest professions. It places huge demands
on leaders and so we see very few women leaders rising up to
positions of power. Most women politicians are from political
families, very few start from the grass roots and climb up the
ladder," Rao said.
According to experts, the only way to yield more positive results is
to ensure reservation for women in politics.
"It is difficult if you expect women to have equal participation
without reservation in politics. The present system is loaded
against women and reservation could be one way we can hope for more
women leaders to emerge," Rao stressed.
Sharing this view, Rangarajan said reservation could lead to
something which has otherwise been so far unachievable in the
"The present situation is an accurate reflection of the long
distance we need to travel to reach gender equality. Reservation may
give it a push," he added.
(Anjali Ojha can
be contacted at email@example.com)