The Congress' gambit by announcing 40 per cent tickets to women candidates in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly polls has brought into focus the under-representation of women in the state legislature and also thrown a challenge to political opponents for rising above tokenism in fielding women in electoral contests.
Congress general secretary and UP party in-charge Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, on Tuesday, announced that her party will give tickets to 40 per cent women in the upcoming elections to make women, roughly constituting about half the electorate, "a full-fledged partner in power".
The move, she claimed, is aimed at empowering every woman who wants justice, change and unity of her state and also against the efforts to divide them into caste and religion that is stopping them from emerging as a force.
With this decision, Congress will have to give tickets to around 160 women in the election to the 403-member house.
It would be interesting to see if the party's strategy will pave the way for better representation of women in the house, which had only 10 per cent of their presence in the outgoing Vidhan Sabha that is the highest till date, and whether political opponents will make a conscious move to field more women candidates than the previous elections in 2017.
A record 40 women candidates had made it to the legislature in 2017 making it the highest ever proportion of female members in the 403 member-house. In the 2012 state elections, 35 women were elected, which was the earlier record.
All the major political parties had together fielded 96 women in the 2017 polls.
The BJP, whose senior member and Allahabad MP Rita Bahuguna Joshi had alleged that her former party Congress humiliated the women who contributed so much for the organisation, and its junior partner Apna Dal had got the highest number of 35 women representatives elected to the house in 2017.
The Congress has two women candidates elected while the BSP, whose national president Mayawati termed the decision to set aside 40 per cent tickets for women as nothing but "pure election drama", also has two women MLAs in the house.
The Samajwadi Party has one woman MLA in the outgoing house.
The BJP had given tickets to 43 women, the highest among all the parties, in the polls.
According to Election Commission data, the first UP assembly elections held after Independence in 1952 saw 20 women get elected to the house. After that, their presence in the assembly has remained insignificant.
In 1985, 31 women were elected but the number fell to 18 in 1989, and further dropped in 1991 to 10. In 1993, 14 women were elected that further increased to 20 in 1996 and 26 in 2002.
In 2007, however, their number fell to a mere three. Ironically, a woman (Mayawati) was the leader of the house at that time.
The BSP had fielded only 20 women candidates in 2017 whereas it had given 33 tickets to women in 2012. The SP-Congress, who had contested the election in an alliance, gave tickets to 33 women, of whom SP had 22 and Congress 11 candidates in 2017.
In 2012, SP had fielded 34 women candidates of whom 22 had won their seats.