Patna: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar may have had upcoming assembly elections in mind when he went against his party, the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), and backed the Women’s Reservation Bill this month.
But political partners and some analysts say the goodwill he intended to generate among women may not translate into votes when the state goes to the polls later this year.
Kumar had spoken in favour of the Congress party-sponsored proposal to reserve 33% seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies for women when it was introduced in Parliament. The contentious Bill was cleared by the Rajya Sabha, thanks to the support of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is Kumar’s coalition partner in Bihar.
But the official JD(U) stand has always been against the Bill. Many of Kumar’s party colleagues, including national president Sharad Yadav, say the Bill requires a “quota within quota” for the other backward classes and minorities—JD(U)’s political support base—before they would support it.
The acrimony had spilled into the open, with some JD(U) leaders challenging Kumar’s stand.
Vote politics: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. Kumar had spoken in favour of the Congress-sponsored proposal to reserve 33% seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies for women. Reuters
“I have seen the...awareness level among women in Bihar and their participation in developmental issues. After seeing the explosion of energy, my views have changed,” Kumar recently told Mint, explaining his position.
He was referring to his move to extend reservation for women in gram panchayats (village councils) and urban local government bodies from 33% to 50% soon after he became chief minister in 2005, making Bihar the first state to do so.
He said the change had brought out women, especially from backward communities, in large numbers to cast their votes in local body elections.
Some analysts said his support for the Women’s Reservation Bill was a smart political move aimed at cashing in on the goodwill he had created among women voters in the next state polls.
Kumar has been lauded for his attempts to change perceptions about Bihar, which is viewed as one of India’s most backward states. Bihar’s economy, which grew at an annual rate of 3.5% in the 1990s, has been expanding at an average annual rate of 11.35% since 2004-05.
But some political analysts do not buy the argument that Kumar’s stand will win him more votes. “His position on women’s reservation will give (him) good mileage. But it’s not sure if that goodwill may transform into votes,” said Prabhat P. Ghosh, director at the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute.
“Because womanhood is not a political identity but a social identity—unlike the caste identities. Nitish Kumar’s performance as chief minister still remains his political capital,” Ghosh added.
Deputy chief minister and senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi said Kumar’s stand may hurt the governing coalition in its electoral battle against the Rashtriya Janata Dal, which opposed the legislation.
“Women en masse will not vote for any party. The upset men may go against us,” Modi said, pointing out that men still decide which way to vote for many families in Bihar.
“But we wanted the reservation because it is critical for empowering women,” he said.