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Odisha polls: Parties give a raw deal to women

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Reported by Chinmaya Dehury

Bhubaneswar, Mar 26:

Every political party makes the right noises about women’s empowerment. But when it comes to giving  tickets to women to contest parliamentary or Assembly elections, all of them develop cold feet.

Between them, the three major political parties in Odisha– BJD, Congress and BJP – have fielded only five women candidates in the 21 Lok Sabha seats of the state, which works out to a paltry eight percent. The three parties have failed to reach double figures when it comes to fielding women in Assembly elections either.

The ruling BJD, which keeps talking of ‘women’s empowerment’ on every conceivable occasion, has found place for no more than 14 women in its list of candidates for 147 Assembly constituencies.

The two national parties – Congress and BJP – have been just as stingy as the BJD in giving tickets to women despite their pro-women talk. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly said empowering women is imperative to make India a super power while BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has harped on the fact that women’s empowerment is of ‘paramount’ importance. But their parties fail to walk the talk when it comes to giving tickets to women candidates.

While Congress has nominated just 10 women candidates, including two in the Lok Sabha election, BJP has been even more tight-fisted, fielding only nine of them as candidates in the Assembly polls with Sangeeta Singhdeo from Bolangir being the party’s lone candidate in the Lok Sabha polls.

While Congress has fielded cine star Aparajita Mohanty and journalist Sucharita Mohanty from Cuttack and Puri parliamentary constituencies respectively, BJD has nominated Rita Tarai, a Zila Parishad member, from Jajpur and Sakuntala Laguri from Keonjhar Lok Sabha seats respectively.

“It is true that women do not get proper representation in the Lok Sabha and Assembly. They are talented and qualified, but very few have mass base. Since the political parties always look for winnability, they ignore women during election even though they claim to work for women empowerment,” said a social activist.

“When it comes to giving tickets to women, all political parties talk about winnability. More often than not, women candidates have better popularity and winnability than their male counterparts. They must be given more tickets than is done now,” said state unit president of BJP’s women’s wing Simantini Jena, who is contesting from Badachana constituency.

Ranjan Mohanty, coordinator of Odisha Election Watch, said politics only reflects the anti-women mindset of society. “Keeping in mind the fact that about 53 per cent women got elected in the Panchayat elections held in 2012, we expected that political parties would give tickets to more women. But unfortunately, it did not happen. Empowering SHGs is not women’s empowerment. They should be given a chance in politics which needs political will power,” said Mohanty.

In the 2009 assembly elections, 1,288 candidates were in fray in the state, of whom only 126 were women, which is about 10%, according to data available with Odisha Election Watch, a civil society body working for electoral reforms.

In the last three assembly terms, representation of women out of the total 147 seats was 13 (8.84%) in 2000, 12 (8.16%) in 2004 and barely seven (4.7%) in 2009.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, only 521 women were in the fray. The Congress and the BJP – the two major national parties – fielded 39 and 40 candidates respectively across the country.