Women constitute a quarter of Narendra Modi’s cabinet, even though they make up only a little over 11 per cent of the 16th Lok Sabha. This is significant, even internationally. In South America, for instance, women hold the same proportion of Cabinet positions, but the proportion of women in the lower houses of parliaments is more than double that of India, and 17 of the 18 countries have some kind of gender-based quota policy.
Going beyond token considerations of numbers and portfolios, it is worth noting that the women in Modi’s cabinet are backed by considerable leadership experience within the BJP. As such, this increased representation is in line with more systemic changes in the party and derived of an apparatus that has nurtured women leaders. Leadership positions within parties serve as valuable training grounds for women as they seek higher political office. An analysis of the role of women within the organisational set-up of various Indian political parties reveals that the BJP has a much better track record of allowing women access to such positions than other parties.
In 2006, following the recommendations of a committee led by current External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj — and comprising leaders such as Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla and Speaker Sumitra Mahajan — the BJP amended its party constitution to provide a 33 per cent reservation for women within its organisational framework. In 2010, this was furthered by another amendment that increased the representation of women in all cadre positions.
These amendments also institutionalised the powers of the party’s internal women’s movement, the Mahila Morcha. At the national level, the president of the Mahila Morcha serves as an ex-officio member of the central election committee, which is responsible for making the final selection of candidates for legislative and parliamentary elections, and administering campaigns. This is paralleled at the state level.
The result of these amendments is that, as of April, 26 of the 77 members — or 33.7 per cent — of the BJP’s national executive are women. Women also comprise 26 per cent of the party’s national office bearers, which — though less than 33 per cent — is higher than other political parties in India.
Juxtaposed against the BJP, the representation of women in leadership positions within other political parties is meagre at best and nonexistent at worst. Within the Congress, only five of the 42 members (including special invitees) of the Congress Working Committee and six of the 57 members of the All India Congress Committee are women. Additionally, only four of the 14 members of the party’s election committee are women, and 30 of the 35 state …continued »