Fewer women in Rajasthan race as BJP, Cong point to ‘winnability’, ‘patriarchy’ after quota rhetoric

Only 9.76 percent of the total 1,875 candidates are women.

WrittenBy:Shivnarayan Rajpurohit
Illustration of parties showing the "women's card".

Before the Bill to reserve one-third of legislative seats for women was passed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had told the Lok Sabha that “God has perhaps chosen me” for women empowerment “and such other sacred tasks”. The Congress, which has been stressing the need to give rights based on population, also supported the legislation.

But those expressions are in stark contrast to what the BJP and Congress have practiced during ticket distribution.

In Rajasthan, only about 10 percent of the BJP’s total 200 candidates are women whereas the Congress, led by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, has fared only slightly better with 28 women candidates – 14 percent – of the 199 seats where it is fighting. 

But dismissing any allegations of doublespeak on empowering women in politics, the BJP said it distributes tickets on the basis of “winnability”. A Congress leader, who did not want to be named, meanwhile blamed the low representation on the “lack of political awareness” among women and a “purush pradhan” (patriarchal) society.

Only 9.76 percent, or 183 candidates of the total 1,875 – who are in the fray across the state for elections to the 200-seat assembly – are women. This share is sobering in a state where the vote share of women has been on the rise since 2003. In the last four elections, the female voter turnout has increased by 10 percentage points, and in this election, there are 2.52 crore registered female voters against 2.73 crore men.

Some of the prominent women candidates in Rajasthan are former chief minister Vasundhara Raje (Jhalrapatan), Diya Kumari (Vidhyadhar Nagar), Mamta Bhupesh (Sikrai), Shakuntala Rawat (Bansur), Divya Maderna (Osia), Jyoti Mirdha (Nagaur), Siddhi Kumari (Bikaner rural), Archana Sharma (Malviya Nagar), Anita Bhadel (Ajmer South) et al.

BJP, Congress on same page

Overall, the BJP has given tickets to only 13 percent women candidates among the total number of leaders it has fielded since the 2003 assembly elections. Of the total 990 candidates fielded by the saffron party, only 131 were women. 

The Congress’s record is equally underwhelming. In the last five elections, it has given tickets to 115 women – or 12 percent of the total 995 candidates.

The BJP recorded its best share of women candidates (16 percent) in the 2008 and 2018 assembly elections – both times, it was on the losing side. In this election, it has fielded the least number of women candidates.

The share of Congress women candidates, meanwhile, has hovered between 9 percent and 14. This election saw the highest number of women candidates from the Congress – at 14 percent. In 2003, the party fielded the least number of women leaders.

Overall, the number of women candidates in the assembly elections has been steadily increasing, except in this election. From 118 women candidates in 2003, it jumped to 189 in 2018. This time, the number saw a slight drop to 183. Cumulatively, of the total 10,000 candidates fielded since 2003, just 810 (or 8 percent) were women.

The vote share of women voters has been increasing. In 2003, 64 percent of the total women voters turned up to vote against 70 percent men. Fifteen years later, their vote share jumped to 75 percent against 73 percent by men.

Women outreach

The increasing political awareness among women is another reason why most welfare schemes launched by CM Gehlot target women. In the run-up to the polls, the Congress government decided to subsidise gas cylinders, give free smartphones to women and scooters for meritorious girl students. One of the seven guarantees announced by Gehlot is an income support scheme under which every woman head of the family will receive Rs 10,000 a year if the Congress forms the government.

Meanwhile, in its elections manifesto, the BJP has promised gas cylinders for Rs 450, a woman police station in every district, free scooters for girl students, and saving bonds worth Rs 2 lakh for girls.

‘Women are ready’

Arun Chaturvedi, a member of the BJP’s national executive and former Rajasthan BJP president, told Newslaundry that winnability is the factor that decides the choice of candidates. He listed the recent women reservation law and the increase in women quota in panchayati elections to 50 percent by the then BJP government in Rajasthan as key decisions for women empowerment.

Rehana Rayaz Chisti, former Rajasthan Mahila Congress president, differed. “Does it mean the rest of 180 male candidates from the BJP and 171 in the Congress are sure to win? If a man has the right to lose, why isn’t it applicable to a woman? A woman fights with more gusto and sensitivity than a man. The electorate feel more comfortable with a woman candidate,” she said, adding that she wasn’t given a ticket even when she wanted to contest.

“The Congress gave tickets to 40 percent women candidates during the UP assembly elections. Here, the Congress has fielded good women leaders. More should have got tickets. We should not wait for the law,” said Rayaz, who is also the chairperson of the state commission for women.

Another Congress leader, who did not want to be named, said the low share of women is because of lack of political awareness and a patriarchal society.

Raksha Bhandari, president of the Rajasthan BJP’s Mahila Morcha, said the top leadership has decided to field only 20 because of several factors. “I have heard a few people saying that women are not ready. This is false. Women are ready and they are the best administrators. Currently, the equation is such that the top leadership may have found these many women (20) suitable (for the elections),” she said.

“The BJP is the only party which has been able to pass a law, pending for 60 years, in Parliament. This is the result of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s will,” Bhandari said.

When asked if only a law can arm-twist political parties to give a higher number of seats to women, Bhandari said, “Even bringing out a law on women quota also requires will power. If we were like other parties, we would have stalled the women’s reservation bill. This means that we are determined to increase women’s participation in politics – even if it is through a law.”

A report in Newslaundry Hindi had earlier detailed how just 11 and 13 percent of the total candidates fielded by the BJP and Congress, respectively, are women in the Madhya Pradesh poll battle.

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