BJP puts women quota to work

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By RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
  • Published 22.03.10
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New Delhi, March 21: The BJP, which felt sore when Sonia Gandhi and the Congress stole a march over the Opposition in grandstanding over the women’s bill, has made a point by implementing a one-third gender quota in its organisation for the first time.

BJP president Nitin Gadkari inducted as many as 40 women in the 121-member new national executive and appointed 12 women office-bearers in a list of 36 that included 11 vice-presidents, 10 general secretaries (not counting the two joint general secretaries) and 15 secretaries.

In its 2008 national council, presided by Gadkari’s predecessor Rajnath Singh, the BJP had adopted a resolution that earmarked one-third of all posts for women with the promise that it will be executed when a new team is constituted.

As Gadkari short-listed the women, those women who had arrived in the party like Sushma Swaraj emphasised to him that “quality was as important as numbers, if not more”. Otherwise, the inductions might have a “Congress-like look” with women coming in because of their lineage, connections and social (caste and religion) antecedents rather than substantial contribution at the grassroots, a source said. “If these were the criteria that were adopted, the selection would have reinforced the stereotypes men continue to harbour about women politicians — about them not being serious about politics as a career,” a woman MP said.

The team that was unrolled on Tuesday had its “glamour” quotient in Hema Malini, Smriti Irani, Vani Tripathi and Kiron Kher. But for every celebrity representative, there were three women who were picked because they came from the lower rungs of the organisation and made it to the senior levels by fighting elections at all levels — council, student, panchayat, Assembly and parliamentary.

Bijoya Chakravarty, a vice-president, is Lok Sabha MP from Guwahati. She began in 1977 as a district secretary of the Janata Party (the Jan Sangh had merged itself with this entity) and went on to become a vice-president of the BJP farmers’ front. Her colleague Karuna Shukla has been an MLA in Madhya Pradesh and an MP from Chhattisgarh. She has also worked for the RSS’s Saraswati Shishu Mandirs and the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram.

Although Vasundhara Raje may be the only woman among the 10 general secretaries — a post that is considered the most powerful after the president’s — the verdict was that she was chosen not so much for her “pedigree” (royalty) or her damage potential in the faction-ridden Rajasthan BJP but because of the perception that, like Sushma, she was a mass leader.

Three of the five women secretaries are products of grassroots politics. Kiran Maheshwari was a councillor and head of a co-operative bank in Rajasthan before becoming an MLA and an MP. Arati Mehra was a corporator thrice in Delhi and later its mayor. Saroj Pandey was a mayor and MLA in Chhattisgarh and went on to become a Lok Sabha MP.

New spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman worked for the RSS in Andhra Pradesh and was involved in student politics in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The national executive has packed in a former Delhi University Student Union president, Rekha Gupta, and an ex-Kota mayor, Suman Shringi, among others nurtured by struggles.

The Congress may have pioneered one-third reservation in its organisation but the 25-member Congress Working Committee has only four women, including Sonia.

Among the nine general secretaries, Mohsina Kidwai is the only woman, while the 39 secretaries include just four women. One of them, Hema Gamang is the wife of former Orissa chief minister Giridhar Gamang while another Vijay Laxmi Sadho is the daughter of a former Madhya Pradesh minister close to Arjun Singh.