Where are the women in Karnataka politics?

Where are the women in Karnataka politics?

Bengaluru: Last week, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah declared that it is possible for his party to give 5 to 6pc of the total Congress tickets to women in the upcoming assembly elections. The maximum could be 10pc of the total tickets and not beyond that, he had said. Why is he imposing the maximum ceiling? What is the basis for his calculations?
The chief minister chose WoW: Women of Worth, a convention for women entrepreneurs in Bengaluru, to make his stand clear. He also said unless there is a law to reserve 33pc of seats for women, their presence would not increase in state assemblies and Lok Sabha. The present imbalance would continue, he had observed.
Siddaramaiah's statement came after his party president Rahul Gandhi advised him to give maximum representation to women in the coming polls. None from the Mahila Congress wing nor any senior woman leader has questioned Siddaramaiah as to what made him put a cap on the tickets for women.
Siddaramaiah has not just echoed his party's stand on women but also that of all major political parties. Nearly half of Karnataka's population is women. The sex ratio is 968 women for each 1,000 male, as per the 2011 census. But women's voice is going unheard as they have hardly any representation in the Karnataka legislative assembly. Even in a progressive state like Karnataka, women are marginalised in politics.
SINGLE DIGIT
The House strength is 225 including a nominated member. There are hardly 7 elected women MLAs – Congress, 4; BJP, 2 and JD(S), 1. When the House was constituted, there were 6 women MLAs. The strength went up by 1 after the Gundlupet by-election in 2017. There is one nominated Anglo Indian woman MLA.
Till September 2017, the Siddaramaiah cabinet had just one woman minister, Umashree. After winning the by-poll to the Gundlupet assembly constituency, Geetha Mahadev Prasad was appointed as minister of state. The BJP regime between 2008-13 saw only one woman minister, Shobha Karandlaje.
Women's representation in the state assembly has been single digit for many years. From 1994 onwards, it has not crossed 10. Interestingly, it was as high as 13 in 1957, 18 in 1962 and 10 in 1989. These figures only show that over the years patriarchal politics is well nurtured in the state as in other states.
While Lok Sabha has been seeing more women presence from 1952 onwards, Karnataka sent a single woman to Lok Sabha in 2009, 2 in the 2004 elections, and again a single woman in 2014.
It is not that women are not showing interest in contesting elections. Their presence in the polls has been going up.
In 2004, there were 101 candidates, in 2008, 107 candidates and in 2013, 175 candidates. But their presence is just 5% to 6% in a House of 224 MLAs. The presence of independent women candidates to fight MLA elections saw an upswing – from 81 in 2004 to 152 in 2013. But in 2008, there were just 76 independents. But major political parties are not being accommodative.



It is a fact that not many women, unlike men, can mobilise funds to contest polls. One often quoted reason by male politicians is that women are not a good bet to win seats. But statistics show that men too are forfeiting their deposits. For example, in the 2013 assembly polls, of the total 2,772 contestants, 81pc lost their deposits. In case of women, it was 83pc. Whether men or women, unless they have backing of a well established or popular party, they find it tough to face poll battle. Even voters are not consciously making it a point to vote for women candidates.

Recently, JD(S) State President HD Kumaraswamy, while interacting with the media, said that it was his father H D Deve Gowda as prime minister who introduced the Women's Reservation Bill, which stipulates 33pc reservation for women in Lok Sabha and assemblies. Gowda last week wrote a letter to the prime minister seeking the reservation. The BJP is silent over the issue. Parties, which have hardly any presence in Lok Sabha, are batting for the bill.

The Lok Sabha has never seen unanimity while debating the bill. Since 1996, the bill had been introduced 5 times. With the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in May 2014, the bill lapsed. The present House has not yet touched the subject.

Women have 50pc reservation in local bodies since 2013. It began with 33pc reservation in 1993 and later increased to 50pc in Karnataka.




NEEDS BACKING
BJP Media Co-Convenor M H Sreedhar is frank enough to admit that it is difficult for both male and female contestants to win elections without the support of their parties. A party can make a candidate win or lose, he says.
State Mahila wing president Lakshmi Hebbalkar last year had submitted a memorandum to the governor seeking 33pc reservation. She had pointed out that the 2014 election manifesto of the BJP had promised reservation but so far not acted upon it. When she is accusing the BJP, her leader, Siddaramaiah, has expressed his inability to go beyond 10pc.
In the absence of a law, why are political parties are not being accommodative or not exhibiting inclusive spirit when it comes to women? Unfortunately, even women politicians are not collectively fighting this disparity. Forget getting a woman chief minister in the years to come, even one-third (nearly 70 members) of the total strength of the House would not be occupied by women.
If the Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan can manage a House of 545 MPs, then why can't such leadership opportunity be created for women in Karnataka? These questions will never get convincing replies from male politicians.