Woman power rises in In­dian pol­i­tics

Geopo­lit­i­cal notes notes from from In­dia In­dia

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS - M D Nala­pat

Mayawati comes to power in Ut­tar Pradesh with its two hun­dred mil­lion pop­u­la­tion, the three will form a for­mi­da­ble tri­umvi­rate. Should their suc­cesses in state as­sem­bly polls get repli­cated dur­ing the 2019 na­tional elec­tions, the three to­gether may well be in the po­si­tion to jointly de­cide who will be the Prime Min­is­ter, as­sum­ing the BJP is not able to get a ma­jor­ity on its own and falls short by a three-fig­ure mar­gin of the 272 seats needed to as­sume power at the cen­tre.

Mayawati too is the sole de­ci­sion-maker in her party, which she took over af­ter the death of BSP founder Kan­shi Ram, who worked tire­lessly for four decades to fash­ion the “Dal­its” (or the most so­cially dis­ad­van­taged in In­dian so­ci­ety) into a for­mi­da­ble po­lit­i­cal force. The three ladies had been over­shad­owed by an­other for­mi­da­ble lady politi­cian, So­nia Gandhi, who has been the Pres­i­dent of the Congress Party for the past seven­teen years. How­ever, So­nia’s power even within her party di­min­ished af­ter the de­feat of the party in the 2014 na­tional elec­tions, where it won 44 seats or less than 10% of the to­tal strength of the Lok Sabha (House of the People). It is ex­pected that her son Rahul will very soon take over as Pres­i­dent of the All In­dia Congress Com­mit­tee, the apex body within the Congress Party.

The prob­lem he faces is that dur­ing the ten years that his mother was in ef­fect the Supreme Leader of the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia, the young heir to the lead­er­ship of the then rul­ing party re­fused to ac­cept any re­spon­si­bil­ity in gov­ern­ment, de­spite Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh sev­eral times be­seech­ing Rahul to “hon­our” him by join­ing the Coun­cil of Min­is­ters headed by the gen­tle­manly Sikh who was born in what is now part of Email: mg­nala­pat@gmail.com Pak­istan. This has given rise to the view that Rahul Gandhi is afraid of re­spon­si­bil­ity.

It is a re­flec­tion of the state of pol­i­tics in In­dia that women clearly have found it more dif­fi­cult to as­cend in pol­i­tics in In­dia, ex­cept at the level of ru­ral rep­re­sen­ta­tional in­sti­tu­tions (or pan­chay­ats), where a third of the seats are re­served for them. Ef­forts have been on­go­ing to ex­tend such a reser­va­tion to the state assem­blies and to Par­lia­ment, but so far this has not ma­te­ri­al­ized. The rea­son is (per­haps de­lib­er­ate) evolv­ing of a struc­ture that would mean the ro­ta­tion of con­stituen­cies with ev­ery elec­tion, cre­at­ing a level of in­sta­bil­ity that would be toxic to the rep­re­sen­ta­tional process. A bet­ter way would be to re­duce the num­ber of con­stituen­cies but re­tain the same over­all to­tals by mak­ing one third of Par­lia­men­tary con­stituen­cies hav­ing dou­ble mem­ber con­cept, with the sec­ond seat go­ing to the woman can­di­date who has se­cured the most votes among the lay can­di­dates.

In case a lady can­di­date has got the high­est num­ber of votes in the con­stituency, then both the seats within the con­stituency would be held by women, thereby boost­ing their rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Par­lia­ment and in the state assem­blies be­yond one-third. The rul­ing coali­tion in Kerala, where the Chief Min­is­ter and all se­nior min­is­ters are male, lost to the two Com­mu­nist Par­ties in the elec­tion, while in As­sam, a sim­i­lar fate awaited an­other Chief Min­is­ter, Tarun Go­goi, who how­ever had com­pleted his third fiveyear term and who con­se­quently was look­ing a bit jaded (he is in his eight­ies) to vot­ers in the state.

In Tamil Nadu, it has been the norm for vot­ers to throw out the in­cum­bent gov­ern­ment, but in this case, Jay­alalithaa won, as­sisted by the fact that her ad­ver­sary in the Chief Min­is­te­rial sweep­stakes was 93 years old. In­ter­est­ingly, in Kerala, the most ef­fec­tive cam­paigner for the Com­mu­nist Party of In­dia Marx­ist (CPM) was V S Achuthanan­dan, who is a spry 91. Had his party cho­sen him to be the Chief Min­is­ter of Kerala, he would have been the old­est per­son to hold such an of­fice, but the CPM chose the 70-year old party or­gan­i­sa­tion dy­namo, Pi­narayi Vijayan, to hold the post.

In nei­ther As­sam nor Kerala are there any signs of a lady tak­ing over any of the ma­jor par­ties, but pol­i­tics in In­dia is de­vel­op­ing dy­nam­i­cally as un­pre­dictable as the weather, and hence this is not im­pos­si­ble in the fu­ture. So it may be said that Woman Power has reached from the vil­lage and town level to that of the state, but not yet at the na­tional level. The only lady Prime Min­is­ter was Indira Gandhi, and the rea­son why she was cho­sen for the job was her birth cer­tifi­cate. She was the only child of In­dia’s first Prime Min­is­ter, Jawa­har­lal Nehru, and the Congress Party lead­ers re­garded it as nat­u­ral to en­trust a mem­ber of the fam­ily to the top job. In con­trast, Mayawati, Ma­mata and Jay­alalithaa have won lead­er­ship po­si­tions on their own, with­out any as­sis­tance from lin­eage. Should the BJP do badly in 2019 and a coali­tion gov­ern­ment get formed as in 1996 or 2004, although lady lead­ers will be de­ci­sive in choos­ing the PM, it is un­likely that they will se­lect one of them­selves for the post. Al­most cer­tainly, should Naren­dra Modi have to switch roles from Prime Min­is­ter to Leader of the Op­po­si­tion, his re­place­ment will al­most cer­tainly be an­other man, thereby in­di­cat­ing the dis­tance still to be cov­ered by Woman Power in pol­i­tics in In­dia. —The writer is Vice-Chair, Ma­ni­pal Ad­vanced Re­search Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Pro­fes­sor of Geopol­i­tics, Ma­ni­pal Univer­sity, Haryana State, In­dia.

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