In the context of fielding Muslim candidates, the Bharatiya Janata Party has improved its tally in Rajasthan compared to the 2017 Gujarat assembly polls. In Gujarat, the BJP had fielded zero candidates from the Muslim community.
In Rajasthan, one Muslim candidate is set to try his electoral luck on the symbol of the saffron party. The BJP’s Yunus Khan is locking horns with Congress heavyweight and Rajasthan state president Sachin Pilot. It is anyone’s guess what the chances of him winning the Tonk assembly seat are.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been pushing for women empowerment over the last four-and-half years. Vasundhara Raje, Rajasthan chief minister, is considered to be the tallest BJP leader in the state.
In August, Indian National Congress president Rahul Gandhi, while addressing Mahila Congress delegates in Delhi, had said, “My job as Congress president is to ensure women have equal space in our organisation. Our aim is to have 50 per cent women in the party.” The Rajasthan assembly polls are the Congress’s first after this statement.
Meanwhile, a closer look at the candidates’ lists issued by the Congress and the BJP raises concerns over electoral representation of women.
Women representation in Rajasthan assembly
Only 27 of 200 MLAs in the outgoing Rajasthan assembly are women—only 13.5 per cent of the Rajasthan assembly is women. Of the 27 sitting women MLAs, 23 are from the BJP. Others include one from the Congress, an independent candidate and two from local National Unionist Zamindara Party (NUZP). The sitting assembly comprises 163 BJP MLAs, 25 Congress MLAs, seven independents, among others. Notably, both representatives of NUZP are women.
For the 2018 assembly elections, the BJP has fielded only 21 women candidates—this is two less than the number of sitting BJP women MLAs in Rajasthan. In its first candidates’ list, the BJP had announced the names of 131 members of which 15 were women, including incumbent CM Raje. While the second list featured four more women candidates, the third and fourth list had one woman candidate each. Notably, five of 21 women candidates fielded by the BJP are from SC/ST community.
Speaking to Newslaundry, Rajasthan BJP vice-president Ramnarayan Dudi said that the only factor which influenced the distribution of tickets was winnability. “The tickets have been distributed as per constituency-wise social equations,” Dudi said, adding that the survey was under the guidance of the central leadership.
When asked about the fact that even the outgoing assembly had more women representation from the BJP compared to the tickets distributed this year, Dudi said, “Ten per cent toh de diye na, dus per cent se bahar (We have given 10 per cent, more than 10 per cent).”
When reminded of Modi’s claims of empowering women, Dudi first said that tickets were distributed to women in accordance with those seeking tickets. Then he added, “Deserving candidates were given the tickets. Each election has different circumstances.”
Another Rajasthan BJP vice-president Alka Gurjar, defending the BJP, told Newslaundry, “When it comes to the elections, all that matters is the winnability of the candidates. The party has to take care of many equations.” She quickly added, “Baaki party mein mahila ka pura representation hai (However, when it comes to the organisation, it has a good representation of women).” She emphasised that it was the Raje-led Rajasthan government which brought in 50 per cent reservation for women in the local body polls.
In this poll, of the 195 Congress candidates, 24 are women. The remaining five seats have gone to alliance partners. While 10 of 24 women candidates belong to the SC/ST community, four are from the Muslim community.
Rajasthan Congress spokesperson, RC Chaudhary, said that Congress president Rahul Gandhi had asked state-in-charge Avinash Pandey to work towards bringing at least one woman leadership from each district of Rajasthan. “Even though we strive to bring women candidates, it is nearly impossible to do so for any political party or organisation due to the patriarchal mindset of the society. Unless women claim their rights, their leadership, things are unlikely to change.”
Chaudhary added: “While giving representation to women is important, it is all also important for the party to field such candidates who are supported by workers and is a legit voice of the locals.”
BJP’s found one worthy Muslim candidate
Muslims form nearly nine per cent of Rajasthan’s population. However, the outgoing assembly had only two Muslim members: Nagaur legislator Habibur Rahman and Yunus Khan–both from the BJP. In fact, Khan was a minister in the Raje cabinet.
The BJP, while distributing the tickets for Rajasthan’s 2018 assembly polls, had almost scored zero in terms of Muslim representation. It was only in the fifth list that Khan’s name was announced. He replaced BJP’s Ajit Singh Mehta as a candidate from Tonk assembly seat. The constituency has a sizeable Muslim population.
Yunus Khan, the BJP’s only Muslim candidate who will take on Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot.
Rajasthan BJP vice-president Dudi said, “We fielded a Muslim candidate from where he can win. The BJP gives fair representation to Muslims and women.”
Newslaundry reminded Dudi of the BJP’s performance in this context in Gujarat and Karnataka assembly polls. His response was: “BJP gives representation to the Muslims too.”
Comparatively, the Congress tally in this context is better than the BJP. It has fielded 15 Muslim candidates of which four are women. This includes Rahman, who switched sides when the BJP denied him a ticket. Notably, the list also includes two candidates who are the offspring of senior Congress leaders. Rajasthan Congress vice-president Maqbool Mandelia’s son Rafiq Mandelia has been fielded from Churu assembly seat, and Danish Abrar, son of late former union minister Abrar Ahmed, will try his luck from Sawai Madhopur.
Rajasthan Congress spokesperson Chaudhary said while it would be unfortunate if the parties select their candidates on the basis of the religious identity, “ensuring representation of all social and religious groups is important for holistic development”. He added that while the Congress has fielded SC/ST candidates beyond the reserved category constituencies too, it has increased minority community candidates from its 2013 assembly poll’s tally.
“The Congress had fielded Muslim candidates even in 2013 polls, but none could win the polls. We are hopeful that with larger representation this time, a process of victory will start increasing their political representation in the assembly,” he said.