As the number of women voters goes up, they gear up to claim their share in politics in different ways

Dr Shweta Shetty, a medico and a social activist, recently floated The National Women’s Party (NWP) and has embarked on a mission to fight for the women’s reservation quota in the parliament and state assemblies. It is all set to contest on 50 per cent seats in the upcoming general elections.

For the past few days, an interesting whatsapp post has become the subject of talk for many. The Whatsapp post, which is surprisingly penned down by a male social worker Harihar Watve from Dombivali, urges women voters to abstain from voting for any such political party that refuses 50% seats to women candidates.

Shakti, a non -partisan collective has been appealing to the public to make phone calls to their local Member of Parliament (MP) to pressurize him/her to clear the Women’s Reservation Bill (WRB). The last such campaign was held in December 2018.

The women’s reservation bill has been gathering dust since the past 23 years now. The partial approach of almost all the political parties to award equal representation to women in the Parliament and state assemblies has left the women in this country parched to get a fair chance in these constitutional set ups. The bill, which was tabled several times and lapsed every time, faced its first test in the parliament in the year 1996.

“The women of this country are frustrated of being used as merely voters. Even after 60 years of independence, our women have been kept away from a right which is constitutionally theirs,” rues Dr Shweta Shetty, president of the NWP. The newly formed party, which was formally announced in January 2019, is fast becoming popular among women and men both, and already has 7 lakhs registered members from Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Telangana. Excited about the overwhelming response, the party will be contesting half of the total LS seats (283), with 50-50 ratio of female and male candidates, in the upcoming general elections. The road isn’t easy for her, agrees Shetty, and is aware that many untoward accusations maybe hurled at her for the timely launch. “I am not bothered about that. I am happy that we are able to build a network at the grassroot level and will be awarding candidature to some of the finest people who want to serve the society genuinely. We want to stay focused and look forward”, she confides in NewsWithChai, as she takes out time from her hectic schedule at home and office.

Currently, there are 61 women MPs out of 543 members in the Loksabha. And, while over the years even if the voter turnout gap between male and female voters narrowed down to a mere 1.54 per cent in 2014 as against 16.7 per cent in 1962, women representation in the LS is at a dismal low at 11.2 per cent. Women politicians of the country agree no less to this. (Source-CSDS, Delhi and Election Commission of India )

“Even countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal fair better when it comes to giving representations to women in national legislative bodies“, states Rajyasabha MP Vandana Chavan, who had to witness a lot of sloganeering when she raised the issue of women’s reservation bill in the parliament last year. She feels, there could not have been a better chance for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to pass the WRB in its tenure for it had sizable numbers in the LS, she stresses, the WRB is one big hope for women to overcome the barriers of money, muscle and men and actively participate in the progress of the country. “It is inherent nature of women politicians, that they go beyond parties to take decisions on issues that largely matter to the general public and women,” she feels.

But none of the key political parties want to make a promise as far as providing equitable candidature to women in future elections is concerned. And, that is exactly why citizens like Harihar Watve are calling out to women voters. “It is a constitutional right of the woman to be able to get a fair representation. It has been long denied to her, and hence abstention from voting is one very effective way to pressurize political parties to award more seats to women candidates in the forthcoming elections,” states Watve. His campaign is being appreciated by many citizens.

“In fact, such appeals spell out the pathetic state of women in our country,” feels activist Surekha Dalvi. Politicians had always used women as a soft target to fulfill their political goals, especially during the time of elections, she observes. Dalvi calls for an organised approach of women towards allotting them equal representation. “They must make it clear to political parties that merely introducing a Mahila Aghadi to show off their ‘”progressive nature”” is not enough. Instead, they must be forced to be looked upon as important element of policy making”, she states. Activist Professor Nutan Malvi, echoes a similar opinion as Dalvi. She expresses discontentment over the fact that political parties have so far provided representation to only a handful of women, mostly out of political compulsions or dynastic politics. “An organised and forceful approach to seek coequal status is the only way out for all of us,” she ends.

Politicians Speak… Prithviraj Chavan, EX CM, Maharashtra and Senior Congress Leader (Photo Source Wikipedia)

We are not averse to providing candidature to women. But a lot of statistics go into choosing a candidate, and the ‘winability’ of the candidate is significant. However, the provision of 33 per cent reservation to women in local bodies has strengthened the role of women in politics at the grassroot levels. Our party supports the WRB we are committed to it. A party with absolute majority is the only way to allow the bill to be cleared in the near future.

Dr Neelam Gorhe, Shivsena MLC and spokesperson (Photo Source Wikipedia)

“Yes, the bill is absolutely required. However for now, the SS is doing its bit by appointing many women on key posts. At times this, even when the party was not bound by any reservation policy. The party is making conscious efforts to create parallel positions for women workers right from the grassroot levels on key committees in the party, thereby making the field of politics more inclusive.”