Ahmedabad: Only 16 women candiates have been fielded by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and opposition Congress for phase one of the Gujarat Assembly polls though both the parties back the Women's Reservation Bill that provides 33 per cent reservation. While the BJP has fielded 11 women candidates, the Congress has named just five candidates for the 87 assembly seats that will go to polls on December 13 across Saurashtra, South Gujarat and four seats in western Ahmedabad district.
The Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP), a new entrant into the political battlefield this year, headed by former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, has fielded only one woman candidate. Explaining the rationale behind very few women taking to politics, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Gujarat University, Gaurang Jani said, "Political awareness is less among women from rural areas and in urban areas, only the successful women candidates are repeated."
According to Jani, the state government, on its part, has not undertaken measures to empower women and create educational awareness about political participation, adding that, Gujarat lags behind on key social indicators like female foeticide, infant mortality rate, high malnutrition rate, among others.
Highlighting that elections have not been held in state universities for many years, Jani said that student politicians are nurtured in colleges and universities. Echoing similar views, Gujarat Mahila Federation (GMF), an organisation working for women's empowerment, president Ila Pathak said that women are not allowed to dabble into politics because it is considered a "taboo" to do so.
She added that male politicians are well-connected locally and in rural areas, there are not enough women candidates who can enter the fray and that is why, political parties have less number of seats for women to contest. In the 2007 state assembly elections, 88 women contested the polls with 16 of them emerging victorious. Fifteen of the 16 elected women legislators belonged to the saffron party while one woman legislator was from the Congress.
Back then, the BJP had fielded 22 women candidates for the 182 assembly seats, while the Congress had fielded only 14 women candidates across all the constituencies. The BSP and LJP had fielded five and three women candidates respectively. While 29 women contested as independent candidates, the rest were fielded by registered unrecognised political parties.
When asked why the BJP was reluctant in giving assembly tickets to more women candidates, BJP media cell convener Jagdish Bhavsar said, "The BJP has already implemented 33 per cent reservation policy within its party. Once the bill is passed by Parliament, we will give more seats to women candidates."
"Let the UPA government first pass the bill in Parliament. Their party president is a woman and still they are struggling to get the Bill passed," Bhavsar said, adding that the BJP had always given more tickets to women than other parties in previous polls as well as this time. When asked why the Congress party had given tickets to only five women candidates for the first phase of polls, state Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said, "Congress was the first party to introduce 33 per cent reservation for women in local bodies and today many women head gram panchayats."
The BJP might have given more tickets to women candidates, but under their rule, women's security has not been ensured and women belonging to backward communities have been completely neglected, he alleged. According to Sonal Patel, president of Gujarat Pradesh Mahila Congress, one of the reasons why the high command had given fewer tickets to women candidates in the assembly elections as that women politicians "lack preparedness" for the assembly polls.
The issues on which assembly elections are fought are different from those of municipal elections and panchayat polls, Patel said, adding that once the Women's Reservation Bill becomes a law, it would automatically become mandatory for all parties to give tickets to women candidates. BJP Mahila Morcha president Jayshriben Patel said that the saffron party has always encouraged participation of women in politics, adding that, despite delimitation, the party has given more tickets to women candidates than any other party.
The Women's Reservation Bill provides for 33 per cent reservation for women in both the Houses of the Parliament - the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha - in addition to reservation in state legislative bodies. The bill for reserving 33 per cent of seats for women in Parliament and state assemblies was passed by the Upper House with a 2/3rd majority in 2010, but has been pending in the Lower House due to lack of consensus among political parties.