Election in Punjab: the missing candidates

In an election where parties have tried to outdo each other to attract female voters, a demographic that comprises at least half of the state’s 2.12 crore voters, the number of female candidates remains extremely low in Punjab.

Of the 117 candidates from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BSP alliance, only five are women. This represents approximately 4% of the total number of applicants. Of the five, four are from the SAD, which is in contention with 97 seats, and one from the Mayawati-led BSP, which is in contention with 20 seats.

The Congress, which launched a high-profile campaign in UP around women – even promising to set aside 40 percent of its tickets for them – announced tickets for 109 seats in Punjab, of which the party donated just 11 (10 percent of the total number of seats) to women.

The AAP, which tries to project itself as a departure from established parties, announced tickets for all 117 seats, giving only 12 (10%) to women.

The BJP-led alliance, which has as partners Captain Amarinder Singh’s Punjab Lok Congress and SAD (Sanyukt), has given tickets to eight women out of 106 candidates announced so far (about 7.5% of the total number of candidates).

While the representation of women in terms of tickets announced by all parties remains low, this has not prevented political parties from doing everything possible to obtain their votes.

The SAD was the first to come out of the blocks when its leader Sukhbir Singh Badal announced 2,000 rupees per month to each BPL female head of household with ‘blue ration cards’, if the SAD-BSP alliance is elected in power in the state.

In December last year, AAP national organizer Arvind Kejriwal announced Rs 1,000 per month for every Punjabi woman aged 18 or over. Earlier this month, the head of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC), Navjot Singh Sidhu, pledged 2,000 rupees per month to every housewife in Punjab, in addition to eight free cooking gas cylinders every year, if Congress forms the government.

Among the 11 women candidates put forward by the party are former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Lehra constituency); two incumbent ministers Aruna Chaudhary (Dinanagar-SC) and Razia Sultana (Malerkotla); seated MLA Rupinder Kaur Ruby (Malout-SC) who won in 2017 on an AAP ticket and is now with Congress; and debutante Malvika Sood (Moga), sister of actor Sonu Sood.

Commenting on gender inequality among party candidates, Sunil Jakhar, senior Congress official and head of the Punjab election campaign committee, said: “I can only say that no one was denied a ticket. because of his gender. The problem is that they have to be fed before the elections. It’s not something that happens overnight. Priyanka-ji was there [in Uttar Pradesh]. She worked in the field to bring up the female aspirants. In Punjab, the process has started and I think it will take time for them to impose themselves in the political arena. In times to come, we can expect more women to claim their rightful place in politics. Among the women candidates for the PAA are two MPs Baljinder Kaur (Talwandi Sabo) and Saravjit Kaur Manuke (Jagraon-SC); singer-turned-politician Anmol Gagan Maan (Kharar); and Jeevanjot Kaur, who was fielded from the high-profile seat in Amritsar East.

Driba MP AAP and Opposition Leader Harpal Singh Cheema said, “We gave maximum tickets to all female candidates who were active in the field.

Of the four women hired by SAD, at least two of them, Jasdeep Kaur and Sunita Chaudhary, are rookies and close to Akali leaders. Jasdeep was declared the candidate for Khanna’s party after the High Court of Punjab and Haryana rejected an appeal by her husband, leader of Akali Yadwinder Singh Yadu, to challenge the polls. Yadu has been convicted in 14 FIRs, including criminal cases. Sunita Chaudhary, who will contest Balachaur, is the daughter-in-law of former Akali MP, the late Chaudhary Nand Lal.

The most prominent of the four Akali contenders is Bholath’s candidate Jagir Kaur.

SAD spokesman Daljit Singh Cheema said: “The party always makes an effort for women to get maximum representation… But there are practical difficulties. The Assembly constituencies are huge and in some of them it even becomes difficult for men to travel long distances and campaign.

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