The decades old demand that women be provided thirty percent reservation in the state assemblies and the Lok Sabha has never got off the ground because leaders like Lalu Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav objected that ‘those with short hair’ – (Par Katis) meaning the educated and progressive lot – would receive all the nominations. This would leave out the women from other sections of society. So, they wanted reservation within reservation for OBCs. (There was also the important issue of ensuring tickets for their progeny.) Perhaps, had it been planned that parties be required to grant thirty percent tickets to women, the proposal might have done better! Priyanka Gandhi’s announcement that the Congress would provide forty percent of the tickets to women in the coming UP assembly election needs to be viewed in that context. Notwithstanding the populist agenda that may lie behind the decision, it could force other parties to give greater representation to women. (It may be noted that even the Pakistan National Assembly has reservation for 60 women members, who are nominated proportionately by parties with more than five percent of the votes cast.)
In India, it was perhaps thought that the reservations for women in the second and third tiers of democracy would throw up leaders who would prove deserving of party nomination for the assemblies and the Lok Sabha. However, the result has been, at best, mixed. This is largely because – in too many cases – she is merely the proxy for her husband. ‘Pradhan Pati’ has come to be a generally accepted term in the governance lexicon.
It is all very well for Priyanka to make the announcement but, if she has any real understanding of the grassroots situation, she will be hard put to find that number of women candidates capable of winning an election. Add to it the caste and community factors – it would be quite an achievement if even one-tenth the required number is available. Even women voters will be less than enthusiastic about supporting this tokenism. ‘Vidhayak Patis’ will become a nuisance for all concerned with the task of governance.
Given that the Congress has almost disappeared in Uttar Pradesh, there is no harm in playing this card. It presently has 7 seats in the 403 member assembly, it can only do better. What impact the decision has on the other parties remains to be seen.