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Women In Indian Politics

Role of Women in Indian Politics

The ink-stained polls of the world's largest democracy have delivered their verdict and India waits with bated breath to learn whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's second administration will be different than the first. While India exults after yet another peacefully concluded election, one question remains: What is the role of women in Indian politics? The answer is both big and small. Typical of India, it contains contradictions.

On one hand, India falls in the lowest quartile with respect to the number of women in parliment (9.1%,14th loksabha). Even Rawanda (56.7%), south Africa (44.5%), Mozambique (34.8%) and many others have much more women representatives, according to the UN's 2008 survey of women in politics. That said the recently concluded 15th Lok Sabha elections have delivered a record 59 women as members of Parliament, the highest since independence, raising their parliamentary participation to 10.7%.

Seventeen of these women are under 40. And representation of women leaders at the grassroots level in India is nearly 50%, especially since the passing of the 73rd amendment of 1992, which allotted one-third of all seats to women. The panchayati raj, that bedrock of rural government, has fostered more and more women participants and leaders. (A panchayat is a five-person elected village council.)

Some states, like Karnataka, had inducted women into rural politics even before it was mandated by the constitution. Several states, including Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar and most recently, Uttarkhand, have allotted not just the required 33% of panchayat seats for women but increased it to 50%.

Hullabaloo over the participation of women is made over the Constitution (84th Amendment) Bill relating to women's reservation since from 1998.The problem of Indian politics is that reservation is made for women but women are not included in these policies. The country's ruling party Congress, led by a woman and supposedly pushing for reservation for women till recently had 10 per cent of women among the candidates announced so far.

For the BJP the proportion of women candidates is even lower at 7 per cent. Even in the case of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), only 7 per cent of the candidates are women. It is not that women are not provided major work in politics but most often, indeed, they are relegated to the "women's wing" of the party, and made to concentrate on what are seen as specifically "women's issues" such as dowry and rape cases, and occasionally on more general concerns like price rise which are seen to affect especially "housewives".

Women leaders can be classified broadly into two groups

  • Pallu groups or dynastic groups (Sonia Gandhi,Vasundhara Raje Scindhia, Amma, Rabri Devi,Sheila dixit) having family ties.
  • Hysterical group: Mamta, Mayawati, Sushma Swaraj, Uma Bharti In this is broad generalization some have been left like Krishna tirath etc.

Among the Pallu groups the name which is most revered or has became synonymous with Indian politics is Sonia Gandhi ,leaving her most of other pallu group members aren't able to set their foothold ,this also clear by example of Vadsundhra Raje who has been made scapegoat after the loss of BJP in state assembly and lok sabha elections.Also Amma and Rabri are craving for power.

Talking of hysterical group on one hand Mayawati stands out clear winner as a women who relies on vote bank of dalits , and is CM of most populated state of country . Conversely, some like Mamta Banerjee are never able to outgrow their rebel image and have become more or less a relic in the changed political situation. The most interesting thing is that the Pallu group is no pushover. Sushma Swaraj is like is Rahul dravid of Indian team who never got what they deserved but ,still she also showed her immaturity in politics when she "threatened to shave off her head if Sonia had became the PM?"

What does seem to be the case is that - barring striking exceptions where dynastic charisma is seen to matter more than anything else - most women politicians have found it difficult to rise within party hierarchies, and have managed to achieve clear leadership only when they have effectively broken out and set up parties on their own.

Yet once these women become established as leaders, another peculiarly Indian characteristic seems to dominate - that is the unquestioning acceptance by the (largely male) party rank and file of the leader's decisions. One thing that is missing here is the name of a woman from rural areas or from a general house .But why is it so …? Reason is that general housewife focus on three issues: healthcare, education, and the funds to make these two things happen.

Future of Women Politicians

That brings us to the larger question — the future of women politicians in India. Is it too much of a coincidence that the women who really do well in politics are only those who head political parties? After all, can anybody dictate terms to the Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati or the AIADMK supreme, J.Jayalalithaa, or Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee? As for Ms Sonia Gandhi, well, she runs nothing less than a political empire where the Congress Party is concerned!

If we take other parties, particularly in the Hindi heartland, it will take a lot of effort to even recall the names of prominent women politicians. A woman playing a prominent role in Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party? Forget it. Lalu Prasad's RJD got a woman chief minister in the form of Rabri Devi for very obvious reasons — when Lalu faced corruption charges and had to step down, he could trust none other than his wife Rabri.

That she did not even know the ABC of politics mattered. The lack of both education and political training of any sort was clearly evident in the kind of language she used and the charges she made against the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar during the Lok Sabha election campaign. Ms Jaya Jaitley's tryst with the Janata Dal (U) was a passing phase and she has faded into oblivion. Today the party is led by Mr Sharad Yadav, famous for his balkati quote.

Such obnoxious comments are not generally forgotten but for those with a short memory, Mr Yadav had protested against women's reservation in legislatures by saying that if this was done, the legislatures would be dominated only by the balkati or women with short hair! Answer to such comment should be given in the way as thatcher did : I don't mind how much my ministers talk," baroness Margaret Thatcher once said, "as long as they do what I say.(uk's former pm)

Women empowerment

More and more entities are recognizing the power of micro-loans and how they can elevate an entire segment of society. And the route to the underserved is frequently through women, thanks to models based on Grameen Bank and others. Chennai-based Equitas, for instance, only works with women. In March, The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) launched Shree Shakti, a platform for training women entrepreneurs at all levels of Indian society.

Goldman Sachs's ambitious "10,000 Women" program aims to train and develop women entrepreneurs across the globe by pairing them with resources in the West. In all these cases, women serve as the lynchpin for programs, whether they are rural Self Help Groups (SHG) or global programs that aspire to foster entrepreneurship.

The good news, at least in India, is that these microfinance initiatives are reaching bigger swathes of the underserved. The Indian School of Microfinance for Women (ISMW), for instance, goes one step deeper into the problem. Based in Ahmedabad and chaired by social activist and SEWA founder Ela Bhatt, the school recognizes that borrowing money is only one part of the triangle.

Among other things, the school teaches women how to deal with the money they borrow through capacity building workshops, networking and providing knowledge resources. Simply put, it takes Goldman Sachs's global vision for women entrepreneurs and translates it into a deeper regional focus. The school's website lists 'hand-holding' as one of its goals. Participants of micro-credit schemes are taught financial planning and investing techniques that they can use on the ground and in their business.


Vipul Pandey