March 28, 2014

BJD red carpet for royals, short shrift to women

Democracy, they say, begins where feudalism ends. But political parties in Odisha, the poorest state in the country, obviously have other ideas. At least 13 scions of ‘royal’ families have been fielded by various political parties for the simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in the state this time.

Curiously, as many as 10 out of the 13 have been nominated by the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), a party that has never tired of tom-tomming its ‘pro-people’ and ‘pro-poor’ credentials. While seven of them have been fielded in Assembly elections, three have been nominated for Lok Sabha polls, ironically from constituencies that comprise some of the poorest regions in the state: Kalahandi, Bolangir and Kandhamal.
Known for the highest number of cases of malnutrition and starvation deaths in the state, Bolangir district alone has got five members from one royal family contesting the coming election. Of these five, three are from BJD – Ananga Uday Singhdeo from Bolangir Assembly Constituency, his son Kalikesh Narayan Singhdeo from Bolangir Lok Sabha constituency and Prakruti Devi, a woman from the same royal family, from the Patnagarh Assembly constituency.

The other two from the Bolangir royal family in fray this time are Kanak Vardhan Singhdeo and Sangita Singhdeo fighting on Bharitaya Janata party (BJP) tickets in the Patnagarh Assembly seat and Bolangir Lok Sabha Seat respectively.

In another glaring dichotomy between what he professes and what he does, BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik has named only two women in the list of candidates for the 21 Lok Sabha seats in the seats, which accounts for less than 10%. It is hardly the kind of percentage that a party that incessantly talks of ‘women’s empowerment’ can be proud of.

The proportion of women in the list of candidates for Assembly elections is not much to write home about either. There are no more than 14 women in the final list of BJD candidates for 147 Assembly constituencies – which again works out to less than 10%. Revealingly, three out of these 14 are from ‘royal’ families.

The other major parties like the Congress and the BJP have not fared much better when it comes to fielding women candidates. But, Naveen and his party certainly deserve the lion’s share of the flak on this count since it is they who keep shouting from the rooftops about ‘women’s empowerment’.

Naveen’s claims on ‘women’s empowerment’ rest primarily on the large number of self help groups (SHGs) his government has helped form in the state and the reservation of 50% of seats in urban local bodies. But when it comes to the Big Prize of Lok Sabha and Assembly nominations, the BJD boss has been as stingy as the others in handing out party tickets to women.

This piece first appeared on March 26, 2014, at the Odisha Sun Times.

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