Karnataka’s number has stagnated at two for the last three terms

International Women’s Day (March 8) this year has come right on the heels of the declaration of elections for the 16th Lok Sabha and there is no missing the irony of women being barely there in the tentative candidate lists of all major political parties.

While the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party are expected to field two women at the most, the Janata Dal (Secular) may field three. Even the new party on the political block, Aam Aadmi Party, has “received very few applications” from women, according to its State president Prithvi Reddy.

The 15th Lok Sabha had J. Shantha of the BJP from Bellary. She was joined by Ramya of the Congress from Mandya towards the fag-end after the byelection (in 2013).

This trend is not surprising, considering that Karnataka has never had more than three women representing the State at one time in the Lok Sabha since the first election in 1952 (The State was then called Mysore.). The 1991 polls saw three women going to the Lok Sabha from Karnataka, Basavarajeshwari from Bellary, Chandraprabha Urs from Mysore, and D.K. Taradevi from Chikmagalur, all from the Congress.

The first woman to be elected to the Lok Sabha from Karnataka was Sarojini Bindurao Mahishi, who is most remembered for her report on reservation for Kannadigas in Central government jobs.

She also has the distinction of winning four terms continuously from Dharwad North constituency between 1962 and 1980, and was also a member of the Rajya Sabha twice.

A curious phenomenon in Karnataka is that two women of the Nehru-Gandhi family — Indira Gandhi in the byelection in 1978 and Sonia Gandhi in the 1999 election — winning from Chikmagalur and Bellary constituencies, respectively.

Interestingly, though the number of women representatives in the Lok Sabha has seen an upward trend at the national level, from 45 in 2004 to 59 in 2009, Karnataka’s number has stagnated at two for the last three terms. With the exception of 1996, the highest number of women contestants so far has been 19.

‘Tokenism’

“All political parties are guilty of tokenism on the women’s question and political reservation for women has remained a mirage,” says Pramila Nesargi, former BJP MLA and one of the founder members of Mahila Meesalathi Horata Samiti, a forum of women politicians formed in 2005 to pressure political parties to pass the Bill providing 33 per cent reservation to women.

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