Lack of “winnability” — a euphemism for money and muscle power — is cited as the reason for poor representation of women in the Karnataka Assembly
The Congress office in New Delhi saw a great deal of lobbying for tickets. Among those vociferously demanding a fair share were a sizable number of women who sat on a dharna and demanded that they should get at least 10 per cent reservation in ticket allocation. Their hope was pinned on party president Sonia Gandhi, who was said to be favourable to the idea.
However, the final list belied their hopes. Congress has fielded only 11 women (less than five percent) for 224 seats, just as in the last election in 2008. The other parties are a notch worse, with BJP and JD(S) having fielded seven and eight, respectively. They had fared better last time, having fielded 10 women each.
This time, a total of 170 women contestants are in the fray. This, however, reflects a large presence of Independents rather than the willingness of mainstream political parties to accommodate more women in the electoral arena. The much-talked about “winnability” factor (which is often a euphemism for money and muscle power) is cited as a reason to deny tickets to women by all parties.
Karnataka has had the ignominy of never reaching the national average since 1989 in terms of women’s representation in the legislature (as on 2008, national average was 6.9 per cent). Karnataka had the highest number of women legislators in the Assembly in 1962 (18) and has never touched that mark since then.
The average reached as low as 1.35 per cent in the last election in 2008, when just three women - Seema Masooti, Mallika Prasad and Shobha Karandlaje from BJP - won. Two more, who are wives of politically powerful men, Anita Kumaraswamy and Kalpana Siddharaju of JD(S), entered the legislature through by-elections. That pushed it to 2.2 per cent, which is the lowest compared to any other southern State. This is lower than even States like Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Haryana.
Party-wise break up of women getting tickets also shows a sorry state of affairs. The Congress gave above 10 per cent tickets to women only in the 1957 and 1962 elections, but has never crossed the six per cent mark since then. The BJP gave tickets to women for the first time in 1983. Even though the Janata Party, which came to power 1985, provided reservation to women in Panchayats, the party did not follow a similar principle in Assembly or Lok Sabha polls. Surprisingly, the Left parties, which have been strongly arguing for 33 per cent political reservation for women, have not been favourable. The CPI has given one ticket each to women in four elections so far, while the CPI(M) gave one ticket to a woman for the first time in 2008, who is the lone woman contestant from the party this time too.
Clearly, the Karnataka Assembly continues to be male-dominated and this is also reflected in the poor representation of women in successive cabinets. More often than not, women have typically been assigned “soft” portfolios such as Women and Child Development and Kannada and Culture. Shobha Karandlaje, who quit the BJP ministry to join the Karnataka Janata Paksha led by her mentor and former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, was one of the few women to hold a “weighty” portfolio like Energy.
In a striking contrast, half of the three-tier Panchayat system in Karnataka comprises women, thanks to the 50 per cent reservation policy. This is testimony to how the long-pending 33 per cent political reservation for women can make a real difference, if only it went beyond rhetoric and there was a political commitment to push the agenda through.