HERALD VIEW: Hope for parliamentary democracy lies in more and active participation of women
Women constitute 10% of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly. The onus is on all parties to ensure that the percentage registers a healthy growth
The announcement that Congress seeks to put up women candidates in 40% of the constituencies it will contest in Uttar Pradesh has been greeted with scepticism. Dismissed as ‘drama’ by the BSP chief Mayawati, editorial writers have wondered if it is not just tokenism. Pundits are convinced that the announcement will not yield any electoral dividend. Political scientists have described it as a risky idea. Others have wondered if Congress would be able to field 40% women candidates in states like Punjab and Rajasthan where it might have a more realistic chance of winning. Concerns have also been expressed whether the candidates will be selected from across the social spectrum or from families of old loyalists. Will they be just ‘proxies’ for male relatives as in panchayats? Doubts have also been expressed that women from affluent, powerful and upper caste families alone might corner most of the nominations. These are all valid concerns and the Congress will have to address them sooner or later.
But notwithstanding the doubts, the announcement has already achieved its purpose of sending out a clear message to all political parties including the Congress. Though as many as 20 states have reserved 50% of the seats in panchayats for women, no headway has been made in extending similar reservation to state assemblies and Parliament. A quarter of a century has passed since a Bill for 33% reservation for women was first introduced in Parliament in 1996. Both Congress and the BJP included the commitment in their manifestoes in 2014 and in 2019. But while the Congress might be able to explain its failure to get the Bill passed due to lack of consensus in the coalitions it headed, Bharatiya Janata Party has no alibi or excuse. Despite having an absolute majority in both the Lok Sabha and in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, it has done nothing to fulfil the commitment.
The AICC general secretary’s ‘proposal’ may or may not be a game changer for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh but even in other states Congress and other political parties will now be under pressure to put up many more women in elections than it has been doing so far. That in itself will make a major difference in future. Among 193 countries ranked on the basis of percentage of elected women representatives in national parliaments, India ranked 148th as of June this year. Rwanda topped the table with 61 per cent, followed by Mexico (48.2 per cent), Sweden (47.3 per cent) and the US (23.6 per cent), India was behind even Pakistan (20.2 per cent). While the global average of women in the lower chambers and unicameral parliaments is 25.8 per cent, the percentage for India is 14.4 after the 2019 general election, when the number of women elected to the Lok Sabha, 78, was the highest ever.
The percentage of women in India’s upper chamber, the Rajya Sabha, is even lower at 11.6 per cent. West Bengal and Odisha have shown that it is possible for more women to contest and win. Since the men have made a mess of our parliamentary democracy, hope must perforce lie in women dominating and dictating our politics. Unfortunately, the Indian electoral system does not make it easy for anyone, men or women, to contest in elections. With money and muscle often dictating outcomes, Parliament and the Election Commission of India need to step in to reform the broken system and enable the more deserving to get into parliament and state assemblies.