Women get a raw deal from parties in ticket distribution

Mint, April 30, 2014

Women candidates account for a paltry 8% of the total tickets distributed in the first 7 phases of the election

Despite all the talk of the need for greater representation and women?s empowerment by major political parties, women candidates account for a paltry 8% of the total tickets distributed, according to data released by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).

Candidates with criminal charges against them, including some women, account for 17%.

The numbers relate to the tickets distributed for the first seven phases of the 2014 election.

Of the 6,672 candidates analysed so far by ADR, a group of IIM Ahmedabad professors that works towards increasing transparency and accountancy in the electoral process, only 507 are women.

With 47 women candidates, or 13% of the 364 candidates it has put up, this year?s new entrant to the electoral process, the Aam Aadmi Party has outdone both the Congress (41 seats to women, or about 11% of the 369 tickets it has distributed) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (30 seats or 8.6% of the 349 seats it is contesting).

While the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, headed by Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, has given four tickets, or 10%, to women in the 40 seats it is contesting, the Bahujan Samaj Party, headed by another woman, Mayawati, has given 22 women, roughly 5.5%, tickets in the 402 seats where it is contesting. Mamata Banerjee?s Trinamool Congress has 17 women contestants, about 17%, in the 101 seats it is contesting.

With political parties so miserly in distributing tickets to women, it is no surprise that the bulk of women candidates this year are contesting as independents. Of the 507 women in the fray, 167 are standing as independents.

While it is not immediately clear how many women candidates have connections to political families, 69.5% of all women members of Parliament in the 15th Lok Sabha were hereditary MPs, to use historian Patrick French?s term. Women with connections to political families contesting this election include Misa Bharti, Lalu Prasad?s daughter, fighting her first election from Pataliputra on a Rashtriya Janata Dal ticket.

In Mumbai North Central, there is a battle of daughters between Poonam Mahajan, daughter of the late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan, and three-time winner Priya Dutt, daughter of the late former Congress minister Sunil Dutt.

ADR?s analysis shows that parties tend to be more generous to women with substantial finances. Six women candidates have declared assets of over Rs.100 crore. They are Hema Malini (BJP, Mathura), the wealthiest woman candidate with assets worth Rs.178 crore. She is followed by Ambika Soni (Congress, Anandpur Sahib), who has declared assets of Rs.118 crore, and Supriya Sule (NCP, Baramati) with declared assets of Rs.113 crore. The others in the Rs.100 crore plus club are Shruti Choudhary (Congress, Bhiwani-Mahendragarh), Poonam Mahajan (BJP, Mumbai North Central) and Harsimrat Kaur Badal (Shiromani Akali Dal Punjab, Bathinda) with Rs.108 crore each. Of the six, four have family ties to powerful male politicians.

Another 28 women candidates have assets between Rs.11 crore and Rs.100 crore. Prominent amongst these are Preneet Kaur (Congress, Patiala) with Rs.86 crore, Maneka Gandhi (BJP, Pilibhit) with Rs.37 crore and Dimple Yadav (Samajwadi Party, Kannauj), with Rs.28 crore. All three are related to male politicians.

Additionally, 120 women candidates declared assets ranging between Rs.1 crore and Rs.10 crore. In aggregate, 30% of the women contesting the 2014 general elections are worth over Rs.1 crore. Across gender, 26% are what ADR calls crorepati candidates.

If women candidates on the whole are wealthier than their male counterparts, they also have fewer criminal charges against them. Only around 13% of the women candidates have criminal charges against them, far less than the overall 17% .

Among the women, Uma Bharti (BJP, Jhansi) has 13 criminal cases against her; Medha Patkar (AAP, Mumbai Northeast) has nine declared cases; P.K. Sreemathi (CPI (M), Kannaur), Kavitha Kalvakuntla (Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Nizambad) and S. Devi (independent, Viluppuram) have eight each; and Maya Chaware (SP, Ramtak) has seven cases.

In their manifestoes, the BJP, Congress, AAP, AIADMK, CPI (M) and CPI say they are committed to 33% reservation for women in both houses of Parliament. The 2009 manifesto of the Congress had even promised to earmark 33% of the tickets for women in elections for the 16th Lok Sabha, a promise it has failed to keep.

In percentage terms, the candidacy of women hasn?t changed significantly over the past three elections. In 2004, national parties gave 8.14% of its tickets to women. This went up slightly to 8.26% in 2009 and has fallen to just 8% this election, although it could change marginally once data for all constituencies is analysed.

In the intervening decade, women have wrested leadership in non-party political movements, made inroads in other professions and even broken through the glass ceiling in Indian companies, says sociologist Shiv Visvanathan. ?But in the formal party system, patriarchy continues as a club,? he says.

?There is a huge gap between rhetoric and reform,? adds Visvanathan. ?Every party has a khap panchayat mindset that retards reform and creates a new conservatism,? he says, referring to orthodox self-styled arbiters of justice in rural India that have in recent times become notorious for their anti-feminist and orthodox (and often barbaric) judgements.

The 73rd Amendment Act, 1992, mandates the reservation of a minimum of seats for women within local elected governance bodies.

In 2009, the government approved 50% reservation in panchayats and states such as Rajasthan and Odisha have passed similar legislation.

After pending for close to two decades, the Women?s Reservation Bill was finally passed in the Rajya Sabha in March 2010. But it never made it through the Lok Sabha, and minus the law, women continue to be woefully under-represented in Parliament, accounting for just 11.4% of the members in the 15th Lok Sabha.

For now, it doesn?t look like that statistic is going to change significantly.

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