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K’taka polls: Why AAP’s Renuka Viswanathan strongly feels women politicians can bring real change

By Maitreyee Boruah
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    Bengaluru, April 27: As the filing of nomination papers by the candidates for the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections 2018 came to an end recently, the Election Commission (EC) revealed some 'jarring' figures. According to the poll body, a total of 3,374 candidates have filed their nomination papers for the 224-member Assembly elections scheduled on May 12. Out of the 3,374 candidates aspiring to sit inside the revered portals of the Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru, less than 150 are women, rest of them are all men.

    Now, see where the top three political parties stand in the number game when it comes to encouraging women to join politics. The incumbent Congress has fielded a total of 16 women, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 17 and the Janata Dal (Secular) (JD(S)) 14.

    Renuka Viswanathan

    In addition, 90 women have filed their nominations as Independents from various constituencies. Looking at the figures, it is clear that if women want to take part in the electoral politics, they have to contest elections as Independent candidates, otherwise, they stand very little chance.

    Although all the parties have fared badly in giving tickets to women, nonetheless it is an improvement from the last state Assembly elections. In 2013, the Congress gave tickets to 8 women, the BJP 7 and the JD(S) scored high among the parties with 12 candidates. Five years ago, only 66 women candidates contested elections as Independents.

    The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is contesting the Assembly elections in the state for the first time, has fielded two women candidates--Renuka Viswanathan from Shantinagar constituency and Malavika Gubbivani from Chamraja constituency--out of its total 28 candidates.

    When political parties are confronted with the question of not giving enough tickets to women candidates, all have almost the same old excuse--"the winnability factor". Most political parties pretend to believe that women don't stand a chance against their male counterparts in the "big, bad world of politics".

    Others like incumbent chief minister of Karnataka Siddaramaiah are waiting for the Women's Reservation Bill to be passed in Parliament to increase their presence during election times. The CM recently told NDTV that until the bill--that will reserve 33 per cent of seats in the Lok Sabha and all state assemblies for women--is passed things are unlikely to change.

    Viswanathan, the 69-year-old retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer who is contesting her first election, begs to differ. "We need to rise above reservation. Women are as courageous, feisty, able and hardworking as any male politicians. Give women a chance, things will automatically fall in line," said Viswanathan, the well-respected former bureaucrat, who as the secretary for rural development launched the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in 2005.

    Citing examples from her own experience of campaigning relentlessly in the high-profile constituency of Shantinagar for the last few months, Viswanathan proudly said that she had met an amazing bunch of women volunteers in the AAP. "They are young, dynamic, well-educated and very capable. Most of them are very promising and have the capacity to win elections and govern Karnataka in the future. All my women volunteers inspire me to work hard. They have this amazing capacity of handling their personal and professional lives very well," said the AAP politician, who hopes to rein in corruption if elected.

    When asked how to bring down the gender inequality in politics, Viswanathan, the first woman deputy commissioner of any district in Karnataka, said that she would like to see how political parties deal with the issue which has been left unaddressed for a really long time.

    Viswanathan, who has spent a long and a successful career as a bureaucrat, says that politics is the only way to bring real change in society. She admits candidly that even being a top bureaucrat does not always help much. "Women have leadership qualities and they should be a part of the political system to bring the change we want to see in the country."

    The AAP candidate from Shantinagar is pitted against two political heavyweights--Congress' NA Haris and BJP's Vasudeva Murthy. Haris, the controversial Congress leader, is the sitting MLA from the Shantinagar constituency which has 2,18,735 voters.

    "Our fight is against corruption and misgovernance. During our door-to-door campaign, voters tell us about their demands. They want good schools, roads, water and crime-free society. We want to provide health, education and infrastructure facilities to the people. However, we are not promising the moon to them," said Viswanathan, amid a very "hectic and fulling campaigning" spree.

    Before signing off, Viswanathan, who has already become a role model for many aspiring women politicians, said, "We (the AAP members) are here to win".

    Karnataka Assembly Election dates
    Date of notification April 17
    Last date to file nominations April 24
    Last date to withdraw nominations April 27
    Date of polling May 12
    Date of counting May 15

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