Will decision to field one-third women prove a game changer?
BJD supremo and Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik’s aim to secure women’s vote through demands of 33% reservation may turn out to be a calculative failure
Trust Naveen Patnaik to outwit his rivals. Just when the two major Opposition parties in Odisha – Congress and BJP - were trying to pin him down on the issue of 33% reservation of seats in legislatures saying it was an eyewash, the wily Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supremo and Chief Minister has left his opponents groping for a coherent response with his announcement – the first of its kind in the whole country - that his party would field women candidates in 33% of the Lok Sabha seats in the coming elections.
Naveen Patnaik, it may be noted, had piloted a resolution in this regard in the Assembly, which was adopted unanimously, and then followed it up by sending emissaries to the leaders of almost all political parties seeking to enlist their support. Since then, the Opposition had been taunting him for ‘fooling’ the women and daring him to show his commitment to the move by earmarking 33% of Lok Sabha and Assembly tickets for women.
Now that Patnaik has taken up the challenge, the BJP could do no more than ask; “Why only for Lok Sabha? Why not for Vidhan Sabha?” BJP Mahila Morcha spokesperson Kasturi Mishra also questioned the propriety of the CM making an announcement about what, in essence, was a party decision in a government programme. “The BJD should foot the bill for the ₹45 crore spent on the Mission Shakti programme in Kendrapara yesterday,” she told National Herald.
On his part, PCC President Niranjan Patnaik said; “Naveen Patnaik never raised the issue when he was a Union minister. He did not think about women’s empowerment during his 19-year rule in the state either. He suddenly remembered women only when elections are just round the corner.”
To be fair to Patnaik though, he has always been mindful of the aspirations of women voters, who were the single biggest factor in his party’s stupendous performance in 2014 at a time when the Modi wave was at its peak.
The ambitious Mission Shakti programme, launched during his first term office from 2000-2004, has been an unqualified success, having brought as many as 70 lakh women in its fold. In December last year, he announced interest-free loans of up to ₹3 lakh for women self-help groups (WSHGs).
But there is no denying that his support among women has eroded some what since 2014, primarily due to his government’s aggressive promotion of liquor in the state.
At this stage, it is debatable if the 33% reservation in parliamentary seats can win back the support of women who have been disillusioned by the unabashed promotion of liquor by the Naveen Patnaik government
Spontaneous anti-liquor movements have sprung up in almost all parts of the state with women ransacking liquor shops and braving police lathis and – at times – even guns.
That is why observers believe he may not get as many votes of women - estimated to be around 80% - as he did last time round. “There are plenty of cases in rural areas where the women in the family are up in arms over the spread of liquor even as their husbands and sons have rallied behind Naveen due to the various welfare schemes launched by his government,” says senior journalist Debendra Prusty.
At this stage, it is debatable if the 33% reservation in parliamentary seats can win back the support of women who have been disillusioned by the unabashed promotion of liquor by the Naveen Patnaik government.
But if he follows it up with a similar announcement in respect of Assembly elections, it would be extremely hard for the Opposition to end his long honeymoon with the women of the state.