S.N.SAHU | 12 MARCH, 2019
Even in Panchayat reservations for women, Odisha under Biju Patnaik showed the way
Addressing a massive rally in Kendrapara on March 10, two days after International Women’s Day, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik made a momentous declaration: “From this historic soil in Kendrapara, I announce that from Odisha 33% women will go to Parliament. Odisha will show India the way in empowering women.”
This means that out of 21 parliamentary seats from Odisha, the Biju Janata Dal will field 7 women candidates. If they are elected it will go some way towards fulfilling the United Nations’ declared goal of giving representation to a critical mass of women in legislative bodies.
CM Patnaik’s announcement is consistent also with the vision of Mahatma Gandhi, who while answering a question in London in 1931 on whether India’s future legislatures would have more women in their fold, replied that he would boycott those legislatures which did not have enough women representatives.
In other words, as early as 1931 Mahatma Gandhi wanted more women represented in the legislative bodies of India. It is worthwhile to recall here the Father of the Nation’s eloquent remarks of September 4, 1937, on the exercise of non-violence by the whole mass of people. Gandhi said that the social enfranchisement of women is integral to the true practice of non-violence.
Last year CM Patnaik suggested that as part of the celebrations of Gandhiji’s 150th birth anniversary we should put non-violence into the Preamble of the Constitution. His suggestion was hailed across the nation as innovative and illuminating. Together with the BJD’s decision to field 7 women candidates out of 21, it is a historic step for taking forward the cause of non-violence, by enfranchising women socially and politically.
Non-violence, and other normative principles such as sustainability, justice and respect, are now considered by the Germany-based World Future Council as indispensable normative principles for facing climate chaos and surviving the coming century.
What CM Naveen Patnaik is doing for women’s empowerment in 2019, was attempted by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who in a letter to chief ministers on January 4, 1950 asked the President of the Pradesh (State) Congress Chiefs to give more tickets to women candidates to contest elections.
He did so 22 days before the Constitution came into force and India became a Republic. A few days later he wrote another letter to all the Pradesh Congress Chiefs expressing regret that his request for giving more tickets to women candidates was not honoured.
After the first general election in 1952 Prime Minister Nehru was deeply disappointed when enough women were not elected to the Rajya Sabha and the first Lok Sabha. In a letter to Chief Ministers he wrote poignantly:
“I have been meeting our new Members of Parliament. There are over 700 of them as between the two Houses. I have noticed with great regret how few women have been elected. I suppose this is so in the State Assemblies and Councils also. I think we are very much to be blamed. It is not a matter of showing favour to any one or even of injustice, but rather of doing something, which is not conducive to the future growth of our country.
“I am quite sure that our real and basic growth will only come when women have a full chance to play their part in public life. Wherever they have had this chance, they have, as a whole, done well, better if I may say so, than the average man. Our laws are man made, our society dominated by man, and so most of us naturally take a very lopsided view of the matter. We cannot be objective, because we have grown up in certain grooves of thought and action. But the future of India will probably depend ultimately more upon the women than the men.”
Even on the issue of 33% reservation for women in grassroots Panchayat bodies, it was Odisha which provided leadership in doing so, when the late Biju Patnaik reserved 33% of Panchayat seats for women.
Biju Patnaik’s trendsetting and revolutionary decision preceded the late Rajiv Gandhi’s attempt to do so for the whole country by amending the Constitution. He could not accomplish this and eventually it was the late P.V.Narasimha Rao who fructified it through the 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendment Acts.
Biju Patnaik’s son Naveen’s announcement the other day flows from the resolution passed last year by the Odisha Assembly, that 33% of seats in the Lok Sabha and all state assemblies be reserved for women. CM Patnaik also sent a delegation to the centre and all states to exhort the leaderships to implement a 33% quota for women in legislative bodies.
It is unfortunate that the NDA government led by Prime Minister Modi did nothing in its five years for women’s greater representation in legislatures, despite the BJP’s enjoying a clear majority in the Lok Sabha.
In Kendrapara, while announcing the 33% reservation within the BJD for the coming polls, CM Patnaik very profoundly observed that without adequate representation of women in legislatures and other spheres, India would not be able to compete with other economically and technologically advanced countries of the world.
How true, and how important to make the connection, beyond mere tokenism! In fact it was Mahatma Gandhi who said in 1938 that without the participation of women in all spheres of life, India’s competitive ability at the global level would be diminished.
A greater representation of women in the Lok Sabha would be a significant step towards fulfilling the vision of Mahatma Gandhi, and realising in practice the core meaning of non-violence, which is anchored on the enfranchisement of women.
Can other parties in Odisha or in India match up to the historic Kendrapara declaration, and field an adequate number of women candidates for the forthcoming general elections? It is unlikely.
S.N.Sahu served as OSD and Press Secretary to President of India the late K.R.Narayanan and had a tenure as Director in the Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in the Rajya Sabha Secretariat.