Op-Ed: Choice of Women Candidates Should Be Based Entirely On Merit

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Chief minister, Naveen Patnaik collected a lot of brownie points by allotting 33 percent of Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) Lok Sabha tickets to women. Though he failed to accommodate women in the same ratio on the assembly seats the move is still being hailed as a game changer.

The ground reality, however, seems to be different. The chief minister, instead of being seen as a champion of women’s cause, is being criticized for the choices made by him in Lok Sabha constituencies like Aska and Koraput. This is not to suggest that BJD candidates in these constituencies are going to lose but Patnaik’s handpicked women have failed to evoke the kind of response that was being expected when their names were announced.

For example, the chief minister had sought to project BJD’s Aska candidate, the self help group (SHG) leader, 68-year-old, Pramila Bisoi, as the symbol of women empowerment. But travelling through areas like Khallikote, Kabisuryanagar and Kodala one had a feeling that this typical Ganjam matriarch remains largely an unknown figure even  among  the  women folk. Constrained perhaps by the age factor she does not even seem to be campaigning actively.

“She is not even well educated. Merely being an SHG leader is not enough. Wonder why the chief minister picked her?” was the refrain of people at several places.  If she still wins, which does not seem unlikely, it would be because Patnaik’s prestige is at stake in the constituency which had launched him into politics in 1997. The people may vote for his candidate as he happens to be the son of Ganjam. This sentiment  appears   to  be working in many areas of the constituency.

But the candidate has failed to impress people. Similar was the feeling about BJD’s Koraput candidate, Kaushalya Hikaka, wife of outgoing MP, Jhina Hikaka, in large parts of the constituency. “ When her husband never found time to visit these parts during the past five years how can we expect her to do so?” was the question uppermost in the minds of people at places like Pottangi and Ralegada. The overwhelming feeling was that Kaushlaya, if elected, would be nothing more than a puppet in the hands of her husband.

This has been the problem with reservation of seats for women even in the three-tier panchayat system. Women are, by and large, seen as proxies for their politically ambitious husbands. They have been conducting their affairs, even taking major decisions on their behalf.

This is not the way to empower women. A much better way to do this would be to make the choice of candidates in elections purely on the basis of merit, taking factors like education and ability to communicate into consideration. Otherwise women empowerment will remain a mere slogan, a political stunt enacted to score brownie points.

Women like Pramila Bisoi and Kaushalya Hikaka deserve respect and also a role in the decision making process but their choice as Lok Sabha candidates is bound to raise eyebrows as they appear ill-equipped to essay the role of lawmakers at the highest level. Men or women, their choice for this role should be based entirely on merit.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)