Parties Don’t Care for Women Candidates: State Polls Burst Bubbles

The only silver lining, if we can even call it that, in the four-state Assembly polls is Mamata-led TMC.

5 min read
Less than one in ten contestants are women in the upcoming Assembly elections across Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Women voters outnumber men by 8.27 lakh in Kerala’s electoral roll. As Kerala gears up to elect its next government, just about 38 of the 420-odd candidates – accounting to less than 10 percent – are women.

When Mahila Congress President Lathika Subash staged an unusual protest tonsuring her head, against denial of seats to many women – it not only made it to the headlines but also reflected discrimination faced by women leaders across party lines.

Speaking to the media, a weeping Subash said that she expected the party to field at least 20 percent women candidates.

“I am saddened by the candidate selection of KPCC (Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee). We sought for 20 percent seats for women... but at least expected one woman candidate from each district. But those women leaders who used to work for the party have been totally ignored.”
Lathika Subash, Former Mahila Congress President

But parties refusing to nominate women leaders is not restricted to Kerala or the Congress alone.


For Women to Sustain in Politics, They Need to Contest Elections

Take, for example, Tamil Nadu – a state that is also going to polls in April. The southern state gave India its first woman legislator in Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy, way back in 1926 – almost two decades before the Independence.

Tamil Nadu was helmed by AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa six times, making her one of the longest serving chief ministers India has ever seen.

Yet, almost a century and a record-breaking woman chief minister later, there is barely any representation of the gender in the number of candidates fielded. Records since 1967 in Tamil Nadu show that on an average, less than five per cent of MLAs are women.

“Presence of one strong political leader does not mean Tamil Nadu politics is inclusive for women. It may not seem outlandish to voters to see women take part in politics, but they have not gotten used to it. A significant number of female politicians is needed to bring about that change,” Tara Krishnaswamy, who leads NGO Shakti, which aims to embolden women’s representation in politics, told The Indian Express.

But for women politicians to sustain, they need to contest elections. For that, parties must be ready to field them.

While the MK Stalin-led DMK has fielded 12 women in the 173 seats, the AIADMK has fielded 15 candidates in 178 seats so far in the 2021 Assembly elections. Both these parties fielded more women in 2016 elections, with the AIADMK fielding almost double the number of candidates than the upcoming elections.

Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiyam (MNM), for all the talk about ‘women empowerment’ in rallies, has fielded just 13 women out of 112 candidates – nowhere close to 33 percent reservation that the Women’s Reservation Bill looks to provide.

Threat of No Second Chance?

Both Kerala and Tamil Nadu, however, have 50 percent reservation for women in rural and urban local body governments. But this rarely translates into Assembly seats, even if women are popular in their constituencies.

For those who managed to get a seat to Assembly elections, there is almost zero possibility of a ticket next time if they lose the first chance they are given.

“I lost the 2016 Assembly elections, but regardless of my popularity in the seat and assurance that I would do anything to win, a man who has lost from the seat two times earlier has been fielded. Does it hurt? Yes. Do I want to quit politics? Maybe, I will in the near future,” an AIADMK party worker from Tamil Nadu told The Quint.

“So many women become interested in politics by the time their term ends,” DMK leader Salma told IndiaSpend earlier this year. “But they may never get another chance. On rare occasions where the husband is ready to concede the seat, people around ask: Why is he giving his wife another chance.”

She contested the 2006 Assembly elections on the party’s ticket and lost by about 1,500 votes. She did not contest subsequent elections in 2011, 2016 or has been fielded in 2021.

For the first time since 1996, the Muslim League named a woman candidate in Noorbina Rasheed. For her, this election is about “life and death”, she told reporters, after her nomination.

“My prime task is to retain this IUML seat. Through the Women’s League, we have been demanding better representation for women in all party forums. All political parties should give adequate electoral space to women. It is not correct to say that the IUML has been against fielding women candidates. I believe my candidature is the right step towards empowering women,” Rasheed explained, speaking to The Indian Express.

Mamata’s TMC Best Performer Among Parties?

The only silver lining, if we can even call it that, in the four-state Assembly polls is Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC).

The TMC is fielding 50 women candidates in the 291 seats it is contesting – accounting to 17 percent of total candidates. This makes it the political party with the highest women candidates in the Assembly polls.

Banerjee’s party, for whom women form a crucial vote base, has also been consistently increasing the number of women candidates. In 2016, the party gave 15 percent of its tickets to female candidates, up from 14 percent in 2011. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the TMC was the party with most number of women candidates after it nominated women to 40 percent of seats.

On the other hand, the BJP in West Bengal has fielded more women actors in the state – including Payel Sarkar from Behala Purba, Tanushree Chakraborty from Howrah Shyampur, and Anjana Basu from Sonarpur South.

Agnimitra Paul, BJP women morcha chief and fashion designer, told The Print, “Bengal is different from other states. Here intellectual capital is important for people. Film stars have huge following and these stars are stars not by birth. They have made their mark on their own and it is not only easy to win seats easily with their star power, but they also help in influencing public opinion.”


What’s the Hesitation?

But, why are parties so hesitant to field women candidates in Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. Patriarchal mindset aside, these seats are considered more powerful than the local body polls.

“First of all, we must understand all these parties are patriarchal in their attitude. There is no difference even in parties where top posts are occupied by women. A majority in the leadership are men and they have a revengeful attitude towards women. In most of the states, we have a 50 percent quota for women in local bodies. So in many places, I have heard from men complaining that they are not getting much chance. At the same time, men also believe that positions in Assembly and Parliament are more powerful bodies and it should not be left for women.”
Annie Raja, General Secretary of National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), to Deccan Herald

Former CPM MLA Balabharathi asserted that while making it to poll list is difficult, women should first aim to reach decision making positions within the party.

“Even when women get prime party postings, their decisions are often influenced by male leaders. Women mostly get to function within the women’s wings of parties, while the party is run by men alone. What’s so surprising about that?” she told a newspaper.

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