New Delhi: In a first in the country and hours before the election dates for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections are to be announced, four-time Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik on Sunday announced 33 per cent reservation for women in allocation of the Lok Sabha seats by the Biju Janata Dal (BJD).
“Odisha will send 33% women to Parliament in the coming election,” said Patnaik, aiming at his fifth term. He broke the news while speaking at a Mission Shakti function in Kendrapada, incidentally a BJD bastion from where former BJD MP and now National vice president of BJP, Baijyant Panda, had been winning.
Reacting to the announcement, sitting BJD MP Pinaki Misra said, “It is an extraordinary step by an extraordinary leader. It is revolutionary and path-breaking. Naveen Patnaik has thrown the gauntlet for other political parties. I expect the BJP and Congress to follow suit in Odisha at least. I would be happy if a woman contests from my seat.”
Misra said every worker in the BJD must accept Patnaik’s decision with “all its ramifications” and those who do not accept it or are motivated by “selfish interests” can “leave” the party.
Patnaik’s announcement comes amid reports of the BJD planning to drop several sitting MPs from the current lot to cut down on anti-incumbency. Many of his party MPs have served multiple terms in the Lok Sabha and the 33 per cent reservation for women is likely to come handy for the Odisha chief minister.
Sitting BJD MP and eminent journalist Tathagata Satpathy, who has announced that he would not contest the 2019 elections said, “I welcome this decision because Patnaik is walking the talk.” He added, “I don’t think there will be a backlash as Oriya society has always respected women.”
Asked if the sitting MPs who are nursing ambitions of getting tickets would harm the party’s prospects in Lok Sabha elections, Satpathy said, “I don’t think so. The party has given so much. You have to sacrifice for the party. If they work against the party, they would be disloyal to the party.” On the BJD’s prospects, Satpathy said, “I have distanced myself and it will be improper to comment ‘
Rabi Das, senior journalist, pointed out that Patnaik enjoys a large support among Odisha women. “There are many factors for it -- Mission Skakti being one of them. Patnaik’s own demeanour is another a factor. With this announcement, Patnaik will further consolidate that support among women.”
“It is a challenge for other parties. Minimum seven BJD candidates will be women. Other political parties, whatever they may say, have to compete and follow suit,” said Das, who believes alcoholism is a big problem in the state and there is anger against Patnaik but since no party is promising prohibition, it is neutralised.
In November, Odisha Assembly, where the BJD dominates with 117 out of 147 seats, had passed a resolution demanding that Parliament enact a law for 33% women in Parliament and State Assemblies. Misra believes it could have been done as it had the support of the Congress but the BJP revealed it’s “misogynist, anti-women” character. Late Biju Patnaik, as the chief minister of Odisha, had ensured 33% reservation for women in panchayat and municipality elections in the state.
In the 2014 general elections when the Narendra Modi wave was palpable, the BJD had won 20 of the 21 Lok sabha seats in the state, and two of these 20 were won by women: Sankulata Laguri from Keonjhar and Rita Tarai from Jajpur.