How ‘free and fair’ are we when it comes to bringing forward those who have been left behind in the electoral process? Here is an analysis of the Assam assembly electoral politics with regards to three important section of Assamese population i.e. the women, the SCs and the STs.
A total of 529 candidates are in the electoral fray in the first phase of Assam assembly elections 2011. This includes 42 female and 487 male candidates. While 42 might not sound very insignificant number, it is insignificant when seen as a percentage of total candidates fighting election. Women are almost half of the population of Assam and the 42 candidates out of 529 who are fighting the election in the first phase is a miniscule 7.6 percent of those contesting elections. The reality of the break up of 42 is even more difficult to accept.
Caste wise there are 418 general, 35 SC and 76 ST candidates in the first phase of Assam assembly election. The ticket distribution in the first phase suggests that SC and ST candidates form respectively 6.6 and 14.36 percentage of the total number of candidates running for a seat. The percentage of SCs and STs in the population of Assam, according to Census 2001, was 6.9 and 12.4 percent respectively.
Due to reservation of seats in case of SCs and STs, they do get a fair representation in terms of those who will form the final house. Sadly, reservation is the only way we have chosen to bring SC/ST forward.
Of the 126 seats in Assam assembly, a total of 28 seats (9 for SC and 19 for ST) have been reserved for the SCs and STs. And out of the 62 Assembly Constituencies of eastern and southern Assam going to polls on April 4, 2011 in the first phase, 12 seats (3 for SC and 9 for ST) are reserved.
Reservation at least leaves the SC/ST represented by someone from among their own. But without reservation women remain an ignored lot. A deeper analysis reveals that the figure of 42 is far from fair.
BJP and the ruling Congress gave 10 tickets each to women candidates. It amounts to almost 15 percent of the 62 seats going under vote, far below the 33 percent reservation for women in central and state legislatures that both these parties support. BJP has given 3 of the 10 ticket to women SC/ST candidates. Congress has distributed 2 tickets to women SC/ST candidates.
But the disparity can be gauged from the fact that 30 out of 62 Assembly Constituencies do not have any women candidate in the fray. Among the rest, the largest segment of women candidates are of independents i.e. 9 of the 42.
The regional parties who raise the greatest hue and cry whenever women’s reservation bill is brought in the Parliament are worse in terms of being fair to women folk. Asom Gana Parishad gave just three tickets to women candidates this time in the phase 1 of 2011 election. All the three women candidates of AGP come from SC/ST background. But the real bottom has been hit by Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front which didn’t find one women candidate competent enough to be given a ticket.
Again while the Congress and the BJP have given tickets to 10 women candidates, Congress has given 6 of the 10 tickets from constituencies where it won last time. Congress won 36 out of the 62 assembly seats which will vote on April 4 in 2006 assembly elections.
The percentage of SC and ST candidates might be proportionate to their overall population of Assam but that doesn’t represent social equity. Most of the SC/ST candidates are from SC/ST seats. The number of SC/ST candidates fighting from a general seat doesn’t represent their coming forward or blurring of caste identities as far as elections are concerned. Out of the 50 general seats, (12 of the 62 seats going to poll in the 1st phase are reserved), only 19 seats have any SC/ST candidate trying their luck. 31 general seats have no SC/ST candidate, not even as an independent. In this particular regard, independent SC/ST candidate again lead the way by fighting from 8 general seats. BJP gave 5 tickets to SC/ST candidates to fight election from general seats, albeit BJP didn’t win any of the five seats in 2006 assembly election. Congress didn’t give any ticket to any SC/ST candidate to fight election from general seat.
May be, we as a nation, need much soul searching and actually start doing something to ensure that free and fair doesn’t remain a phrase quoted in books and speeches.
Two phase election in Assam from May 28