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Has Legal Framework Turned a Blind Eye towards Under-representation of Women in Indian Politics?

The underrepresentation of women in politics wins its spot both in our Constitution together with international law obligations

Indian Poltics
Smriti Irani, Indian Politician. Wikimedia Commons

New Delhi, August 17, 2017: Where women empowerment in India is given due importance with subjects ranging from ‘Triple Talaq’ to ‘Beti Bachao’, the scenario of women in Indian politics is grim. One recurring question always occurs to the minds of the general public, “Do men only talk about the issues or are they willing to share the power with their female counterparts?”.

The figures are as appalling as the whole scenario. The average proportion of women’s representation in the world stands approximately 22%, while in the case of India it is only 11.8%. Nations like Saudi Arabia, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Rwanda,  Somalia, Iraq, Ghana, and Fiji rank above India. To bring light in the Southern Asia, Afghanistan (54), Nepal (48), Bangladesh (92) and Pakistan (90) rank much higher than India.

A study conducted by the Inter Parliamentary Union indicated the 149th rank of India in the record of 193 countries keeping in view the women’s representation in the lower or single house of parliament. Moreover, Rajya Sabha has the representation of women scantily at 11.1%, mentioned The Wire.

In 1993, the parliament also passed the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments which led to a one-third reservation for women so as to ensure fair representation of women in local bodies. Additionally, more than one-third of the total seats for women were reserved in the legislative bodies like Delhi and Bihar.

In spite of the objective and purpose of the amendments made by the government, there has scarcely been any development concerning the issue. This was also given a thought in the recently-held civic polls in Mumbai and Delhi.

In the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls, only 15 by all of 113 unreserved constituencies were acquired by women. Likewise, 138 out of 272 constituencies were reserved for women in the Delhi’s municipal corporation election. Tickets proposed by political parties to women in unreserved constituencies: BJP (2), Congress (6), and AAP (7).

The tickets given to women candidates in reserved constituencies were given not to the grassroots volunteer who toiled day and night for the parties growth, but for their spouses or male relatives.

ALSO READ: Women Wing Feels Cheated by Aam Aadmi Party on Ticket Distribution

The underrepresentation of women in politics wins its spot both in our Constitution together with international law obligations.

Among the purposes explained in the preamble of Indian Constitution,

Article 39A:  State must guarantee that opportunities for obtaining justice are not withheld to any national citizen for reasons of financial or other impediments.
Article 46: inflicts a responsibility on the state to guard weaker sections against social inequality and all forms of prejudices.
Article 25:  all persons are fairly and equitably granted the freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion subjected to morality, health, and public order.
Article 14: secures the right to equality as a fundamental right, which mandates the equal opportunity for everyone that is also reflected in Article 15(3).
Article 7: binds states to take steps to eliminate discrimination against women in political and public life and to secure women’s eligibility as that of men to contest elections to all public bodies and that they must have the ‘right to participate’ in participating and implementation in government policies.


Considering all this, it is horrifying to see the narrow-minded and biased approach in the Indian politics on problems of representation of women. On one side, they buttress the inclusive representation and hypocritically on another side, they exhibit an evident indifference to women’s representation. This can be attached to the understanding that women don’t exist or simply put: It’s a no woman’s land.

There can be umpteen reasons for women’s low representation in Indian politics, varying from implicit masculinity of conventional politics to hurdles like family and marriage and the prevailing socio-economic and political policies.

ALSO READ: Gender Pay Gap: Why are Women Less Paid than Male? 

Exerting a lead from global backgrounds, there are many formulations that can be fostered to ensure fair representation of women. For example, European countries like Sweden have the ‘zipper’ system that mandates the party candidate lists to double between one male and one female candidate. This is done to ensure that every three candidates must include one woman. In democracies like US, New Zealand and Australia, there exists a soft quota system based on the grounds that gender equality will prevail gradually with the pace of time without the need for provisions. In Latin America, legal candidate quotas are the most preferred system.

The equal partnership of men and women in every sphere of life is not only a necessity for justice and democracy but also an ordained situation for peaceful human existence. An active portrayal of women in decision-making framework is the need of an hour.


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Indian Politics and Polity Shift to the Right and Away from Europe

India’s 2014 election was a clear rejection of the long serving Indian Congress Party and its soft socialism

Rahul Gandhi becomes president of Congress as mother Sonia Gandhi steps down
Rahul Gandhi steps in as President of Congress, Wikipedia

By Dr. Richard Benkin, Chicago

  • India is world’s largest democracy
  • Indian politics is always under international coverage
  • India is witnessing political shift due to its leaders and their transformation

The great democracy was electing its national leader.  It was a fight between the party in power with a leftist tinge; and the more conservative opposition with its upstart candidate. The media was rooting openly for the leftist candidate and would stop at almost nothing, even vilifying the conservative upstart as evil, not just wrong.  The candidate on the left seemed to feel entitled, that being head of state was all in the family.  And, as you probably have guessed, that candidate lost.  You might or might not have guessed that, despite the familiarity to American voters, this was not the United States.  It was India.

will also hold a meeting there with the Indian community. Wikimedia Commons
Narendra Modi’ win in 2014 elections stunned the whole nation. Wikimedia Commons

India’s 2014 election was a clear rejection of the long serving Indian Congress Party and its soft socialism.  Its candidate, then 43 year old, Rahul Gandhi, was the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Prime Ministers; and though India is the world’s largest democracy, not the world’s largest monarchy, it was “his turn” to take the nation’s top spot.

The similarities between the Indian Congress Party and the US Democrat Party stop, however, with how the two parties and their dynastic candidates reacted to their defeats.  While there is ample evidence that the Democrats are moving further to the left, India’s Congress, and especially its former candidate, seem to have taken the lessons of their defeat to heart.  Moreover, we too often gauge a polity’s position on the left-right spectrum by which major party dominates.  In the Indian case, however, we get a deeper understanding by examining changes in the out of power party.

Also Read: Rahul Gandhi Elected as President of Congress Amidst Celebration of Followers

The Indian National Congress Party was founded in 1885 and, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, was the principal leader of the movement that led to India’s independence from Great Britain in 1947.  It has ruled India for roughly 57.5 of its 70.5 years as a modern nation (81.6 percent of its entire existence).  Congress fashions itself left-center party with “democratic socialism” as one of the party’s guiding principles; and over the years, I have written a number of articles, criticizing what I believe to be weak Congress policies.  It has followed the lead of soft left European parties, in contrast with the Indian nationalism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  Amitabh Tripathi is a well-known Indian political commentator.  I caught up with him in New Delhi in February and asked him about how the Congress Party was reacting to its crushing 2014 defeat.

RB:  So, was the 2014 election a strong statement about traditional Indian politics?

AT:  Definitely.  Till 1991, Indian politics was at a status quo with socialist, leftist, and communist stances prevalent.  After 1991, right wing politics emerged as a political force.  Since then, Indian politics has shifted to the right; and from time to time for more than two decades, left and right engaged in direct political confrontations.  Congress led the coalition of leftists; and the BJP emerged as the leader of the right.  The BJP ruled the country for six years (1998-2004) and its policies swung to the right, including a vocal and unapologetic relationship with Israel, moving forward strategically with the United States, and exploring India’s role in the Indian Ocean to contain China and its imperialistic ambitions. When the BJP lost power to a Congress led coalition in 2004, the Indian polity again shifted left; and Congress became a complete replica of its 1960s self—a totally leftist party.

Rahul Gandhi becomes the president of Congress as mother Sonia Gandhi Steps Down
Rahul Gandhi traveled to many Hindu temples during the campaign (something he avoided in his unsuccessful 2014 run). It is believed he also did not go to any Muslim places of worship, which was unusual for any top leader from the Congress Party.

In 2014, when elections occurred, the Indian polity moved on to the right on issues from economics to culture.  Before the election, Congress did not read the undercurrent of the people and moved even further left on those issues.  This has been widely acknowledged as the reason for its crushing defeat.

RB:  So it was a real shift to the right among Indians, which sounds a lot like our own experience in 2016.  In the US, the losing Democrat party has reacted by moving further left.  Has India’s Congress tried to understand the reasons behind its defeat?

AT:  The latter statement is correct.  Immediately after losing the elections, Congress realized it was not simply an electoral defeat.  Its ideological stagnation led to the historical loss.  And it tried to rectify that and re-invent itself.

RB:  How have they done that?

AT:  I observed it on three fronts, three major decisions.  First, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the former party President and current head of the dynastic family, took an almost “voluntary” retirement.  She had become the face of hard left and anti-Hindu policies.

RB:  Sounds familiar.  Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi has become the same here, but she does not seem to be going anywhere.

AT:  Second, in ten years of Congress rule, they openly flaunted themselves as very pro-Muslim, which irritated the majority Hindus in India.  But last year, in prestigious elections in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Gujarat), Sonia Gandhi did not address a single rally.  Plus, Congress Party Vice-President (now President) Rahul Gandhi traveled to many Hindu temples during the campaign (something he avoided in his unsuccessful 2014 run).  We believe he also did not go to any Muslim places of worship, which was unusual for any top leader from the Congress Party.  Some people might say it was an opportunistic political move, but I would say it was a well-calculated shift in the party to shed the tags of pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu.

Third, since the days of the freedom movement before independence, and during the rule of Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi (almost the entire period from independence to 1984); Congress followed the policy of demonizing the wealthy and glorifying the poor.  It seems, however, that Rahul Gandhi wants the population to know that he strongly favors the wealth generating middle class and capitalism; he opposes only crony capitalism.  He says the poor should aspire to become wealthy through greater opportunities and employment.

RB:  What about Rahul Gandhi himself?  Does he have a future in Indian politics?

AT:  Since 2014, we have watched his evolution from entitled politician to serious politician who understands the people’s aspirations and country’s need.  Perhaps most importantly has been his understanding of foreign policy and India’s role and responsibilities at a global level.  He has said that he’s ready to take the responsibility of the office of Prime Minister if elected, and he could make a formidable candidate.

Raul Maino
Rahul Gandhi can potentially cause a shift in Indian politics due to his transformation. Twitter

RB:  I’ve heard a lot of people talking positively about him and his growth in my time here.  I believe you also told me he has spent a lot of this time really listening to people from all classes and communities.  Thank you, Amitabh ji, it’s always a pleasure to hear your thoughts, and always a pleasure to be in India.

In a larger context, we have seen a reaction against decades of leftist overreach worldwide:  Donald Trump’s election; Brexit; and a number of elections in Europe rejecting the European Union and loss of national identity (most recently in Italy).  There has been little focus on Asia perhaps because it has not been in the orbit of traditional left-right equations in the West.  India, however, has become a major player on the world stage under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  It has historical conflicts with both Pakistan and China, and can be a major bulwark against Chinese expansion westward.  India also has strengthened its alliances with both the United States and Israel while maintaining relations with Iran.  The rightward movement there is highly significant in plotting future Indian geopolitical moves.

[Richard Benkin is a human rights activist and author with a strong concentration in South Asia.  Amitabh Tripathi appears often on Indian television and in other media.  He is also a contributor to What is Moderate Islam, edited by Richard Benkin.  This interview was conducted in New Delhi on February 27, 2018, while Benkin was there as part of a recently-concluded human rights mission.]