India has a record number of women MPs but female representation is still poor in politics
In the shadow of the huge win for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, one tends to overlook other narratives of the 17th Lok Sabha. Like the fact that it is all set to witness the highest ever representation of women MPs, 78, 46 of them debutantes. And though women MPs of the ruling party are yet to make a sizeable presence felt in governance, at least there is cross-sectional representation in the House. The first- timers are quite the mix. Take the case of Chandrani Murmu, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP from Odisha’s Keonjhar, who, at 25, defeated two-time Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Ananta Nayak, and is purposive about getting a new rail line between Keonjhar and Bhubaneshwar and setting up a steel plant. Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, though a giant killer of senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh by over 3,64,000 votes, has sullied her journey with controversies and incendiary remarks and one wonders if she will indeed pursue her professed desire to push farmer interests. Queen Oja, the BJP MP from Assam, 67 and Jyotsna Mahant, the Congress MP from Chhattisgarh at 65, have proven age is no bar for politics. Nusrat Jahan and Mimi Chakraborty, a pair of glamorous Trinamool Congress MPs, have proven that beyond their dress, they are feisty enough to stall the BJP and convince voters.
But it would be amiss to ignore that in Bangladesh, 21 per cent of elected representatives in the National Assembly are women and in the US Congress, almost a third of the representatives are women. So the bigger question is how to get more women interested in taking up politics? It is sad that we are low on representation despite having a woman Prime Minister in Indira Gandhi long, long ago. The success of women to crest political life, therefore, is not a factor in furthering more women into the line. The answer doesn’t lie in women’s reservation either because that is unlikely to pass a male-dominated legislature. The only way forward is to empower women as a political force; after all they are half the electorate and should vote for their own interests. Parties should introduce women’s manifestoes and improve representation in their own internal ranks. Talking about female empowerment and then not nominating enough female candidates will not pass muster. At the same time, a higher number of women in the workforce will make them more aware of their rights and keep them more involved in politics to protect them. That said, as the defeat of Hillary Clinton proved, women will not vote for women just because they are expected to. Women will, like any other category of voter, choose their own best interests.