Congress, NCP, BJP and Shiv Sena have together fielded only seven women

Maharashtra cuts a sorry figure in women’s representation in the Lok Sabha polls. All the four major parties in the State put together (Congress, NCP, BJP, Shiv Sena) have fielded only seven women candidates, mainly those who have strong family background or political links.

They admitted that the probability of success of a woman candidate was far lesser, prompting them to sideline them in the parliamentary polls.

But the newbie Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has fared way better by bringing eight women candidates on its list. It came down heavily on the four parties for being “hypocritical and seeped in patriarchy,” and claimed that these parties never intended to empower women in the first place.

With all the tall claims of the Congress for women’s empowerment and the need to increase women’s representation in the legislature, the Congress has fielded only one woman candidate from the 26 seats it is set to contest. Its ally Nationalist Congress Party has fielded three women candidates.

Nearly all political parties admitted that they should have accommodated more women candidates. The Congress though said it was focussing on developing grassroot leadership among women.

“Giving representation to women in the Lok Sabha elections doesn’t mean much. Our focus is on developing grassroot leadership,” Sachin Sawant, Maharashtra Congress spokesperson said. When asked about Rahul Gandhi’s emphasis on women’s empowerment, he said the party was trying hard to accomplish his vision.

“We are fighting these elections from only 26 seats. Of these, we already won 17 seats in the last elections. So we really had very little scope for change,” he said.

Priya Dutt, who won the Mumbai North Central constituency in the past and who has one of the highest assets among women candidates in the State, has been given the Congress ticket again. In the 2009 polls too, she was the only woman candidate to have received the party ticket.

The BJP has given candidature to three women – ousted NCP leader Vijaykumar Gavit’s daughter Heena, BJP senior leader Eknath Khadse’s daughter-in-law Raksha and late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan’s daughter Poonam. During the last parliamentary polls, it had given ticket to only one woman candidate.

“Though we haven’t been able to give candidature to many women in the Lok Sabha elections, we have given 50 per cent representation to women in the local self-government. Also, we are the only party to have given 33 per cent reservation to women in the party positions,” BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari claimed.

The NCP said the only criterion while choosing the candidate was whether she or he had the potential to do good work. “We are pro-reservation for women. Unless there is reservation, the situation will not change,” NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said.

The party has given candidature to NCP supremo Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule, who owns the highest assets among women candidates in the State; actor Navneet Kaur Rana, whose caste certificate is under a cloud of doubt; and Bharati Pawar. Shiv Sena has given candidature to only one woman — Bhavana Gawali who has won the Yavatmal-Washim constituency for four consecutive terms.

“Though women’s participation in the party is tremendous, different factors come into play for giving candidature in the elections. We have to look at caste, winnability of the candidate. It has to be a win-win situation,” Sena spokesperson Harshal Pradhan said. All the parties have shown poor track record in giving opportunities to women in the elections. In the 2009 polls, of the 819 candidates in Maharashtra, only 55 or 7 per cent were women.

Only three of them emerged as MPs. Of these 55 candidates, only one was fielded by the Congress, three by the NCP and one each by the BJP and the Shiv Sena.

The AAP, which has fielded candidates such as Medha Patkar, Anjali Damania and Meera Sanyal, said it aims at fielding equal number of men and women in future. It rejected criticism that it was just media hype.

“Every candidate has been chosen with care. All our candidates, including women, are serious contestants. They have formidable work record,” said AAP spokesperson Preeti Sharma-Menon.