Representational image: Hari P G/Onmanorama

LDF, UDF, BJP still flounder on poll tickets to women

Thiruvananthapuram: In the crucible of state and national politics, women’s representation has always been a contentious issue. As the nation faces the first general election after the enactment of the Women’s Reservation Act 2023, which mandates 33 per cent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha, the political parties seem to have changed little.

There were occasions when top leaders of parties took up the women’s cause like the 1991 Assembly election campaign in Kerala.  The workers of the Indian National Congress (INC) were toiling hard in all constituencies, except Kundara in Kollam. Then, it was a common belief that the party that wins from Kundara would also secure a majority in Assembly. In this context, the Congress camp had two reasons to be lax – it was the sitting seat of the CPM and the Congress candidate was a woman.

When debutante Alphonsa John of the INC stood for election in Kundara in 1991 Assembly elections, K Karunakaran took special interest in the campaign. Photo: Manorama/File photo

Congress leader K Karunakaran soon realised this and immediately convened a meeting of booth-level leaders to bring back some vigour into the campaigning and that made all the difference. That year, debutante Alphonsa John of the INC defeated sitting MLA J Mercykutty Amma with a margin of 1,372 votes and the Karunakaran-led United Democratic Front (UDF) came to power. Political observers say the 'Leader' had always placed special focus on ensuring the victory of the party’s women candidates. It seems that era is over.

Target afar
The Congress-led UDF’s Lok Sabha candidate list has only one woman - Ramya Haridas in Alathur. (There are 20 LS seats in Kerala). The BJP, which uses women’s reservation as a campaign tool, has done better than the UDF by allotting four seats while its alliance partner Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) has just one. The CPM which had dared the BJP to implement 33 per cent reservation, is fielding only two women candidates. The CPI has its lone woman candidate in Annie Raja (the party is contesting in four seats as an alliance partner in the CPM-led Left Democratic Front). The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) seems to be in no mood to surprise anyone and has come up with a male-only candidate list.

Annie Raja, the lone woman candidate from CPI. Photo: Manorama

BJP’s ‘Nari Shakti’ slogan
The BJP had organised a convention in Thrissur in January to congratulate Prime Minister Narendra Modi for passing the reservation Bill. PM Modi, at the venue, had accused the Congress and the Left of delaying the passage of the women’s reservation Bill in his recent visit to Thrissur. He went on to say that the LDF and UDF viewed women as weak. However, the PM’s confidence on women’s capabilities has not really reflected in the candidate selection in Kerala.

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NDA's women candidates Shobha Surendran, Nivedida Subramanian, ML Ashwini, TN Sarasu, Sangeetha Viswanath.

After announcing the candidature of Shobha Surendran, Nivedida Subramanian, and ML Ashwini from Alappuzha, Ponnani, and Kasaragod constituencies respectively, the party waited for a few weeks before zeroing in on TN Sarasu, former Principal of Victoria College, for the Alathur SC-reserved seat. Apart from this, NDA partner BDJS has announced the candidature of Sangeetha Viswanath from Idukki.

NDA campaign managers are hinging their campaign speeches on the aspect that the front has outnumbered others by fielding five women. BJP Kerala state president K Surendran said five out of 20 was a good number. He said it should be compared to the lone candidates fielded by the UDF.

Left fails to walk the talk
CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury had demanded the BJP government to ensure the implementation of the Act in earnest. He had also criticised the BJP government for its failure to address the demand for separate quotas for SCs, STs, and OBCs. However, when the CPI(M) has also failed to ensure 33% reservation for women as it announced its LS candidates. KK Shailaja, an incumbent MLA, will contest for the CPM from Vadakara while KJ Shine, a teacher, is contesting from the Congress stronghold of Ernakulam.

CS Sujatha, former CPM MP and state secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association, said the party had been ensuring women’s presence in all committees. “Assembly or parliamentary seats are not the only avenues for women in politics. The party has now ensured 25% women presence in branch committees. In local bodies, the representation of women is beyond 54%. It must be remembered that many states are yet to introduce reservation for women in local bodies,” she said, adding these questions should be posed to the BJP for passing the Bill without ‘any intention of implementing it.’

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KJ Shine, KK Shailaja. Photo: Manorama

When asked about the lack of representation of women from backward communities on the CPM list, Sujatha said that should not be mixed up with the topic of women’s reservation.

Congress’s stance
Ahead of the 2021 Assembly polls, Lathika Subhash, the then president of the Kerala Mahila Congress, had not only resigned, but also tonsured her head in protest against the Congress leadership’s denial of tickets to women. A few weeks ago, Padmaja Venugopal, daughter of K Karunakaran, joined the BJP alleging ‘lack of fair opportunities in the Congress.’ Despite all protests and demands, the Congress refused to include more women this time, too.

Speaking to Onmanorama, UDF convenor MM Hassan cited practical difficulties in allocating more seats to women. “We have given seats to sitting MPs considering their winning chances. We had offered the Alappuzha seat to Shanimol Usman. However, she refused stating that the chances of a win were low,” he said.

Hassan said that offering a Rajya Sabha seat to a woman (Jebi Mather) was an indication of the changing stance of the party. “At least 30 candidates were vying for that seat. However, we took a firm stand that it should be given to a woman this time,” he said.

A woman Congress leader, who requested anonymity, said gender prejudices were evident within the party and society. She added that the Congress showed results when such prejudices were kept aside – like the 2019 byelection in Aroor and 2022 by-election in Thrikkakara where Shanimol Usman and Uma Thomas won respectively.

We tried to contact a woman leader of the IUML. However, she said she had to check with UDF leaders first before sharing her opinion. This time, IUML’s two seats have been taken by senior leaders ET Mohammed Basheer and MP Abdussamad Samadani. In the 2021 Assembly election, it had given one seat to Noorbina Rasheed.

Another woman leader said parties were just a cross section of the patriarchal society we lived in. “We are witnessing the changes brought about by reservation in local bodies where women have over 50% presence. I am someone who used to believe that reservation was unnecessary and one should achieve things on merit. Now, I know,” she said.  

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