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Shobha Oza says laws that reflect women’s concerns, give them more security, and which think of their social, political and economic empowerment, are needed. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Shobha Oza says laws that reflect women’s concerns, give them more security, and which think of their social, political and economic empowerment, are needed. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Congress has fielded the maximum women: Shobha Oza

Oza, president of All India Mahila Congress, speaks on reforms, reservations and the importance of the Gandhi family

New Delhi: When she was a student, Shobha Oza, president of the All India Mahila Congress, the women’s wing of the Congress party, was fascinated by the politics and persona of late former prime minister Indira Gandhi. Oza, born and brought up in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, chose politics as her profession 25 years ago. Like many successful contemporaries in Congress politics, Oza was hand-picked by late former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to be an office-bearer at the National Students’ Union of India. She fought two elections unsuccessfully, but remained a prominent figure in Madhya Pradesh’s political scene. Now, being a national spokesperson for the Congress, she has become a familiar face in the media, defending the ruling party and its policies. In an interview, Oza spoke about gender politics and the need for political reforms, and hit out at the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Edited excerpts:

Why is it that the Congress, which has taken up the women’s reservation Bill, falls short in allocating an adequate number of seats for women in the elections?

Unless the Bill gets passed, I don’t think any party can provide 33% seats for women in Parliament and assemblies. For every party, coming to power is the core issue and the winnability is a major factor, So no party will be able to allocate more seats unless there is a law. Money and muscle power do play a major role as far as elections are concerned, and this doesn’t encourage political parties to give seats to women. But I must appreciate the fact that this time the Congress party has given nearly 15% of the total seats to women candidates.

We have fielded the maximum number of women. Apart from that, it was the party’s initiative that has forced many states to raise the 33% reservation for women in local bodies to 50%. No other country in the world has 50% reservation for women in any elections. Today, in non-reserved seats also, women are contesting and winning.

Why is there no strong political will to consider the success of reservation for women in Panchayats and push the women quota in Parliament and state assemblies?

Success (of women candidates) at the local level...has threatened the men. Men are really threatened that once given an opportunity, women will totally hijack the electoral politics. In our society, men feel that it is their domain, which they will not let go easily... There are various parties also which do not support this idea of reservation for women.

Do you think the gender budgeting, the section for women in party manifesto and the women’s wing in political parties are actually tokenism and do not make any significant difference in empowering the women and bettering their social status ?

I disagree with that view. The gender budgeting and women’s wing in political parties go a long way in strengthening the women and empowering women...be it the education sector, health or employment. Now it’s just a matter of opportunity. Women would literally snatch any opportunity from men. That is the phase (the) country is going through. The next big step should be the women’s reservation in Parliament and state assemblies where we make laws... Men sit and make laws for women and you know how they are! We want more laws that reflect our concerns, give more security to women, which think of women’s social, political and economic empowerment.

The quality of political discourse is deteriorating. Parliament also has witnessed it. So is the problem systemic? And if so, what is the way out?

I think some political reforms are much needed now. There is a steep deterioration in the generation which stood for ideology and for morals, and this deterioration is reflected in the society also. The politicians are coming from the society, so there is a deterioration in thinking, ideology and morals. It has affected our political parties also. There have to be some reforms that will make our political parties and leaders more accountable to what they say and what they do. Accountability is one area wherein we have to bring strict laws. If they become accountable, most of these issues will be solved.

We have witnessed an unprecedented surge in the voter turnout in the last six phases? What does it mean? Does it mean the voters are looking for a change?

I do not agree with the argument that it was for a change. It was mainly because of the Election Commission’s efforts to bring a consciousness to encourage new voters to exercise their franchise. People are becoming more political because of the campaign through the media also.

Narendra Modi seems to have succeeded in delivering a message about the need for change. Do you think your party’s president and vice-president failed to get the much-required attention from the voters for your campaign?

First of all, as L.K. Advani (senior BJP leader) said, Modi is a good event manager. Modi has been marketed well, I would say. Having said that, I would say any product which is a genuine product, a quality product, does not need marketing... UPA II, which came (to power) because UPA I performed well, is relying on our hard work and the performance in the last five years, and the rights we have given to this country. Any substandard product or second-class product needs much more marketing and the BJP has understood it.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadrais playing a key role in the party without holding any official post. Does it not bolster the criticism about dynasty politics in the Congress?

Congress without the Gandhi family is unimaginable. Each and every member of the Congress has high respect for the family. We had Indiraji and Rajivji sacrificing their lives, we have Soniaji, who took up the party when it was in very bad shape. She disliked politics, but she stood by the party and brought UPA I to power with her hard work and dedication. Just like the country has Congress as a synonym, the Congress has Gandhi family as a synonym. Congress without the Gandhi family is beyond our imagination...on Priyanka Gandhi, every one of us wants her to play an active role and it’s up to her to decide when.

Why do you think the Congress has failed in convincing the people about the entitlement regime and other welfare measures it has initiated?

I do agree that the way we should have propagated the achievements of the government has not happened. This is a government that gave so many rights to people, which no government, even if there is a change of government, can snatch from the people. When the entire world was facing an economic crisis and job losses, our government withstood it. But somehow, we could not harp on them, could not market them well. Besides, the BJP is very good at marketing and rumour mongering. As an organization, Congress should have taken all these issues to the people very strongly. I believe that we did not do our duty well in it.

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