Amidst rhetoric on women empowerment, Nitish eyes his core vote bank

Patna: Chief minister Nitish Kumar certainly enjoys an edge over his opponents when it comes to the issue of women’s welfare during his 15 years rule. It is said that the Janata Dal (United) leader has carved out a “separate vote bank” for himself by introducing 50 per cent reservation to women in Panchayats, liquor prohibition, cycles to school-going girls and other welfare measures for the half of the state’s population. In this elections also the JD-U has given 22 tickets to women, roughly 18 per cent, which is higher than any other parties in the state.

However, poor implementation of liquor ban and dwindling representation of women coupled with rising incidents of crime against women have put a question mark on Nitish governance. While the opposition parties have been targeting the Nitish on these issues, they fail to present their plan of action vis-à-vis women empowerment. Women rights groups have been demanding all major political parties to give at least 50% of their tickets to women.

In the first phase of the poll on October 28, of the total 1,000 candidates, 113 are women for 71 seats. The major parties have field 27 candidates in the first phase.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has fielded a maximum of 10 candidates while the JDU, the BJP and the LJP have fielded five each. The Congress and the Jitan Ram Manchi-led Hindustani Awam Morrcha (HAM) have given tickets to one woman candidate each. The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) has given only one seat to women.

Political commentators believe that the issue of women representation in state assembly rarely strikes chords with the people as the rural fold do not see women as “separate entity”. In panchayat elections campaign, photos of women candidates always come with their husbands or fathers, implying that the whole affairs – right form electioneering process to execution of works would be handled by the menfolk only. “They (women) are only rubber stamp,” said Adil Akhtar, who has covered many local elections. He, however, said that election to the assembly is altogether different stories.

Past experiences show that women election to the assembly and parliament often remains low. It has, however, fluctuated in the last 15 years. In February 2005 Bihar election, only three woman candidates could win but the their number significantly improved to 25 in the subsequent polls in October-November that year. Women rights activist Pawanjot Kaur, referring to estimates of IndiaSpend  and Association of Democratic Rights (ADR) writes that in 2015, the Mahagathbandhan, which comprised the JD(U), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress at the time, fielded 10,10 and four women candidates respectively.

The BJP fielded 14 and the Left parties comprising the CPI, CPI(M) and the CPI (ML) fielded a total of 12 women candidates. “In terms of percentage, the JDU, the RJD and the BJP fielded roughly 9% women candidates each, whereas the Congress fielded around 10% and the left parties lagged behind with only 5% representation,” she writes further. Total 34 women were election in 2010 assembly elections: 10 on RJD tickets, 9 from JD-U and four each from Congress and BJP. However, the number declined in 2015 when only 28 women could make it to assembly. Surprisingly, women had “outnumbered men at polling booths by a margin of over seven per cent – 60.48 per cent to 53.32 per cent.”

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