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Women empowerment on lips, not list
- 31 candidates from BJD, Congress & BJP set to fight it out in ensuing elections

Bhubaneswar, March 28: Odisha, which had a woman chief minister Nandini Satpathy for two terms between 1972 and 1976, and has a population of 2.07 crore women, will see only 31 women candidates from the three major parties fighting it out in the ensuing elections.

While 26 of them are in the Assembly fray, five are fighting for Lok Sabha seats. The number has come down in the Assembly compared to 2009 elections when 33 women had taken the field. In 2009, the number of women candidates in the Lok Sabha fray was nine.

All the major political parties in the state seem to have developed cold feet in giving tickets to the women candidates. “They are shedding crocodile tears for women empowerment. When it comes to giving them the power, they just retreat,” alleged Jyotsnarani Pati, a social activist.

Odisha is one of the pioneering states in India to introduce 50 per cent reservation of seats for women in the civic bodies. Nearly 53 per cent women got elected in the panchayat elections in 2012.

The three major parties have fielded only five candidates in Lok Sabha elections this time. While the BJD has fielded Shakuntala Laguri and Rita Tarai from Keonjhar and Jajpur, respectively, the Congress has fielded Odia film star Aparajita Mohanty and journalist Sucharita Mohanty from Cuttack and Puri, respectively. The lone woman candidate from BJP is Sangeeta Singh Deo, who is contesting from Balangir Lok Sabha seat.

BJD vice-president Kalpataru Das said: “We have given opportunities to the women at all level starting from panchayat to the Lok Sabha. We have fielded two women candidates for Lok Sabha. However, our main criterion of selection was winnability.”

The BJD leaders also argued that they had done a lot towards the women empowerment by making women mayor for Cuttack and Berhampur municipal corporations. However, the party failed to project any woman candidate as its candidate for any one of the three Assembly seats in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, though women had sought party tickets. BJD’s leading woman candidate and minister Usha Devi said: “We are in the election mode. I am in the constituency. It is not the right time to comment.”

The women representation in the Assembly has been on a slide since 2000. While the women representation in the Assembly was 14 in 2000, it came down to 12 in 2004 and further made a nosedive and reached seven in 2009. Similarly in 1999, the number of women representatives from Odisha in the Lok sabha was three. It has come down to two in 2004, while woman representation was nil in 2009.

BJP senior leader Sanchita Mohanty, a candidate for the Korei Assembly seat, said: “India is a male-dominated society. All the political parties have failed to project the women adequately. The BJD, which is boasting of doing a lot for women, has paid lip service for the causes of women.”

Mohanty, however, said that if the BJP came to power in the state, it would certainly bring a change and force the party to give more representation to women.