The Congress released its first list of candidates for the Karnataka elections on Sunday night, and of the 218 names that have been announced, only 15 are women. That’s a paltry 6.8% of the total. BJP meanwhile has given seats to a grand total of three women in their first list of 72 candidates – less than 4.2% of their list so far. The third big party in the state – the JD(S) – has named four women in their list of 126 candidates released so far, which is 3.2% of their names so far.
Unless each of the parties names only women for all remaining seats in subsequent lists, the numbers are going to remain dismal. But sadly, this is hardly a surprise if you look at Karnataka’s track record. In 2013, the total number of women candidates in the Assembly election fray was 175, just under 6% of the total number of candidates. And most of them were independents, as the major parties shied away from giving tickets to women.
While JD(S) and Congress gave a mere 11 tickets each to women candidates, the BJP gave only 7. Sixty seven women stood independently.
And of the 175 women who contested, only six won. None of them are independents, showing how important it is for parties to back women in politics, and not just make empty promises of the same. Three of the six women MLAs were from Congress, two from BJP, and one from JD(S).
Even if women do get elected, few have been elevated much further. Of the three women MLAs in the Congress, only one – Umashree – became a minister in the Siddaramaiah cabinet back then. And predictably, she got the post of Minister for Women and Child Development. In the Gundlupet by-election in 2017, MC Mohan Kumari alias Geetha Mahadev Prasad won from the Congress, and was then elevated as a Minister of State with Independent Charge for Sugar and Small Industries.
Karnataka has never had a woman Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister, or Home Minister. None of the state units of the parties have had a woman president either.
In fact, statistics show that women were better off in politics fifty years ago as opposed to today. The highest representation of women in the Karnataka Assembly was when 18 women figured in the Assembly formed in 1962. Five years before that, there were 13 women in the first ever Assembly formed in the state.
Meanwhile, of the 28 MPs in the state, BJP’s Shobha Karandlaje is the sole woman MP, representing Udupi/Chikkamagaluru.
Women’s reservation the solution?
Shobha Karandlaje and several other women in the state have argued that reservation for women in politics is one way to ensure there is more representation of women. Even though Articles 325 and 326 of the Indian Constitution guarantees political equality to all men and women, men have dominated politics in Karnataka – like in the rest of the country.
The women’s reservation bill, promising 33% reservation to women in the Parliament and in state Assemblies, is yet to be passed by Parliament. It got the assent of Rajya Sabha in 2010. But in the eight years since, neither the UPA nor the NDA government has bothered with it in Lok Sabha.
(Update: The BJP's second list of candidates which released on Monday did not feature a single woman contestant.)