The mother of a rape victim, a anganwadi Muslim women’s rights activist, winner of a Dalit beauty pageant – the Congress party’s slate of candidates for the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections appeared to tick all the right boxes when it comes to women’s representation women. Keeping its promise to offer 40% ticket booking to women, the Congress party, as part of Priyanka Gandhi’s flagship campaign ‘Ladki Hoon Lad Sakti Hoon‘ fielded 148 women candidates – a first for any party. However, only one of the 148 candidates faced an electoral victory. The others, including the star candidates, failed to garner even 3,000 votes each.
What went wrong?
In her 1998 article titled “Greater Women’s Political Representation: The Case of India”, feminist scholar Leela Kasturi noted that “gender acts as an important variable in social structures, movements and events and policies. In many circumstances, gender has been used as a symbol by different forces representing different philosophies at any given time.
And yet, the representation of women in India’s public and political sphere during the first five decades after independence was minimal. Noted scholar Gail Omvedt wrote in 1987 that “women’s exclusion from political power has been more marked than their exclusion from ‘productive’ work or even property rights”.
It was only after the reserve politics of the 1980s that the issue of women as voters and political representatives came back to the fore. While the Indian Parliament and political parties have been deadlocked over the issue of the women’s reserve to safeguard political representation, the UP elections saw the Congress promise an unprecedented women’s reserve.
“It was definitely a bold move,” said Diksha Singh, a consultant working for the Congress election campaign in Himachal Pradesh. Outlook. “All parties claim to work for the welfare of women and to increase their representation. But Congress took a step forward and approached women not just as a bank of votes, but as a bankable polling board and potential leaders,” Singh adds.
This is not the first time, however, that Congress has fielded women in the UP. But as past trends show, simply increasing the number of candidates does not necessarily translate into electoral gains. In 2007, Congress ran 37 women for Assembly elections, but only one was able to win. Twelve of the 16 women fielded by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ended up winning the MLA badge.
In 2002, again, only two of the 34 women candidates put forward by Congress won. This was the highest female representation of any party in this election. However, 14 of the SP’s 29 female candidates became MPs.
The representation of women in India’s public and political sphere during the first five decades after independence was minimal.
One of the main arguments against granting reservations to women is that they provide an “extension to dynastic politics” in women. In India, women candidates who are “political heirs” like Indira Gandhi have achieved political stardom. But, as Omvedt notes in his 2005 article in Economic and political weekly entitled “Women in Governance in South Asia”, “at the local level, studies show that traditional images of the “place of women” are stronger than ever and that women are considered less politically capable than men of their family”.
Although the influx of women into local governance institutions has helped to change this image over the past few decades, it was only after women began to emerge as an important bank of “silent” votes that political parties at the national level have begun to take representation from women. seriously.
In 2010, women voters outnumbered men for the first time in Bihar and the trend has continued ever since. These women would play a major role in the success of the Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)) in Bihar and would form the backbone of Nitish Kumar’s electoral base. “Congress wanted to convert this ‘invisible vote bank’ into visible political actors,” Singh said.
Sources close to the campaign say it grew out of Priyanka Gandhi’s personal experiences as a woman leader. The list of candidates chosen by the party for the ‘Ladki Hoon Lad Sakti HoonThe campaign also shows the party’s caution in going against dynasty policy. “We chose leaders from among the female Congress party cadres and those who we felt had some social impact,” a Congress leader campaigning in Unnao for Asha Devi, the mother of a survivor, told Outlook. of rape, before the elections.
Asha Devi herself had expressed her gratitude for being selected and promised to work for the improvement of women’s safety, if elected. Asha Devi garnered less than 3,000 votes, but her daughter said she hadn’t given up hope. “I will participate in 2027,” proclaimed the survivor.
However, an enthusiastic framework alone cannot lead to electoral results. According to Lucknow-based writer and political observer Virendra Yadav, one of the reasons why the ‘Ladki Hoon Lad Sakti HoonThe campaign did not work because it lacked connection with the realities on the ground.
“While the campaign itself was very forward-thinking and set new standards for political parties in terms of women’s representation, Congress failed to provide the necessary infrastructural and institutional support for such a risky campaign. and on such a scale,” Yadav said. Outlook.
He agrees that women in the state are looking for alternatives, but adds that the Congressional campaign, while a popular and catchy slogan on social media and in elite and educated circles, has failed to permeate. women across intersectionalities.
“Their idea of female empowerment is a farce,” she claims, adding that Priyanka Gandhi herself was aloof from real women’s issues in UP.
“The party presented a popular Dalit face on social media or a well-known social worker in certain circles. But how do they address the issues of dalits or disadvantaged women in neglected parts of the state? The campaign provided virtually no plan for this.
Yadav adds that Congress lacked any local cadre-based campaigning or organizational planning in this regard, meaning that “despite the best of intentions, their message failed to reach the masses.”
This is one aspect in which the BJP may have beaten the Congress as well as the Samajwadi Party (SP). “The growth Labharthi factor cannot be ignored. Most voters in disadvantaged sections do not vote for long-term empowerment goals or idealism. They vote for immediate gains,” he says. In this sense, the promise (and delivery) of rations and other gifts might seem like a more appealing option than a lofty slogan about empowerment.
“The problem is the internal corruption and mismanagement of the Congress party,” alleges Priyanka Maurya, leader of the BJP who was once the face of the ‘Ladki Hoon Lad Sakti Hoon‘ country. Disillusioned after being denied a ticket, Maurya, a homeopathic doctor, quit Congress in January ahead of the election and joined the ruling party. “Their campaign ended that day when I resigned,” Maurya said.
The leader alleges that the party distributed tickets based on bribes and political favors. She also says party leaders used the popularity of local leaders and social workers to promote the campaign but didn’t really care about the women on the ground. “Only those with political clout or money can advance in Congress. Their idea of women’s empowerment is a farce,” she claims, adding that Priyanka Gandhi herself was on the sidelines. real women’s issues in the UP or even concerns of women leaders in Congress.”She barely met us,” Maurya says.
A Congress leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the reason Gandhi was not actively campaigning door-to-door in Uttar Pradesh was that the party did not want to limit it to the state. “The party wants to project Priyanka Gandhi not just as a face for UP but as a pan-India leader,” she says. Although some party leaders remain cautious when discussing the campaign, others are hopeful. “Yes, the campaign didn’t work in UP but there are many reasons for that. UP politics is torn by caste and class. Perhaps Congress strategy lacked foresight in this regard. But that doesn’t mean Congress won’t stand up for women’s empowerment anymore,” a congressional spokesperson said. Outlook. With the elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, attention to women seems to have shrunk to a bare minimum. There ‘Ladki Hoon Lad Sakti HoonThe campaign failed to make it to the polls in either state. Yadav says this should not be read as a failure of the campaign but rather as the execution of it by Congress. “Hopefully others will learn from this, see this as a path to explore, rather than relegating it to just a failed experiment,” he said.
(This appeared in the print edition as “Representation of Women”)