The Congress party, the main opposition party, announced its first list of 51 candidates for the Maharashtra assembly elections slated for October. The list features a total of four women candidates which make a dismal 7.84 percent women’s participation in the first list. The Maharashtra elections are just a fragment of the first assembly elections that are going to take place after the Lok Sabha elections this year where the grand old party lost miserably—it only won a total of 52 seats out of 543 seats.

The four women who feature in the list of candidates for MLA seats in Maharashtra are Advocate Yashomati Chandrakant Thakur from Teosa, Partibha Suresh Dhanorkar from Warora, Varsha Eknath Gaikwad from Dharavi (SC) and Praniti Sushil Kumar Shinde from Solapur City Central.

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Is winnability factor working for Congress?

Today when several parties are promising to field at least 33 percent women candidates as the reportage on missing women’s participation in politics increased in the last decade, Congress is still holding on to the much-redundant “winnability” factor. This is the party that claims to have a progressive outlook and had reservation for women in parliament as one of its high-flying claims in the manifesto for Lok Sabha elections.

How will the party justify that this isn’t going to be an empty promise if the party doesn’t field even a measly 10 percent of women candidates?

How will the party justify that this isn’t going to be an empty promise if the party doesn’t field even a measly 10 percent of women candidates? In the Lok Sabha elections, the party fielded 54 women, which was again under 10 percent and there seems to be no change to this policy. Yet six women won out of 52 of its winners making their total 11.53 percent.

Congress’ display of pseudo-progressiveness

Above it all, it looks like its politics without women’s cause for Congress as on one side it releases a list of candidates with least number of women. While on the other side, Maharashtra Mahila Congress secretary, Akanksha Ola tweets just two days before that how hundreds of women activists joined Congress because BJP “failed” them. How will the party assure growth to them when they don’t let women climb up the ladder unless they belong to strong political foothold? Barring a few, all women candidates in the list are from influential backgrounds.

While that shouldn’t stop the party from giving tickets to these women, but making an exception on the basis of the fact that only women from heavy-duty political backgrounds should get a chance shows pseudo-progressiveness. In the list of Maharashtra candidates as well except Yashomati, all other candidates belong to the families of either sitting or experienced ministers. Partibha is the wife of Suresh Dhanorkar, current MP from Chandrapur and Varsha is the daughter of Eknath Gaikwad—three-time MLA from Dharavi, two-time MP and twice state minister of Maharashtra state cabinet. Varsha is also a three-time MLA herself from Dharavi. Lastly, Praniti is the daughter of ex-union minister, Sushilkumar Shinde and she has been a two-time MLA from Solapur City Central.

So many women leaders from Congress have left the party just because of the party’s inability of fielding women candidates in any elections with zero remorse whatsoever.

Women leaders have quit the party yet no change

So many women leaders from Congress have left the party just because of the party’s inability of fielding women candidates in any elections with zero remorse whatsoever. Priyanka Chaturvedi, former National Spokesperson of the Congress party who is now with Shiv Sena, left the party citing, “Deeply saddened that lumpen goons get preference in @incindia over those who have given their sweat and blood,” in a tweet. Another, party leader Sumitra Chauhan, who is the Haryana women’s wing chief, also quit the party over its inefficacy in supporting women’s causes. There are many more such cases.

And several women leaders of Congress have openly expressed their disregard for the party for not fielding them despite the fact that they worked extremely hard as party workers for years on end. Sumalatha, MP from Mandya in Karnataka, is the greatest example of this as when Congress failed to give her a ticket, she contested the Lok Sabha election this year independently and won. Another one who features in this list is Arunachal Pradesh’s Jarjum Ete, who was a member of Congress for several years but had to quit this year after the party denied her a ticket. This was the third time that the party failed Ete as she was seeking a ticket since 2004. Imagine being a party of party that incessantly disregards your contribution for 15 years.

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Gendered political change

Coming back to the fact that several parties today acknowledge the lack of women’s participation in politics and also promise to reserve tickets for them is a huge welcoming change in the last few years. This precedent was set by Odisha CM, Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janta Dal whose bold promise of fielding 33 percent women in LS polls earned him a lot of praise from across the board. West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee followed his footsteps and announced 41 percent women candidates in the same elections and there were others as well. This has had a trickle-down effect on the current assembly elections as many parties in Haryana elections like Swaraj India, Jannayak Janta Party, Indian National Lok Dal and others have promised to field one third women candidates. Even in Maharashtra polls, National Congress Party showed its interest in fielding more women candidates, while they didn’t specify how many.

It is worrying that a major party like Congress has completely ignored such a vast gendered political change. Yet here we are with Congress fielding a measly four women out of 51 candidates for Maharashtra polls.

It is worrying that a major party like Congress has completely ignored such a vast gendered political change. Yet here we are with Congress fielding a measly four women out of 51 candidates for Maharashtra polls. It is one thing to promise change after you win elections and an entirely different thing when you practice what you preach right from the first step of fielding women candidates. This isn’t the first time Congress has failed women in representation. The party must acknowledge its unjust behaviour towards its women members and return with a better plan next time, one that is gender equitable right from the candidate stage.

Picture Credit: Reuters

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