Election results 2024: BJD’s bold move to boost women’s representation fails to meet expectations

by fastburnketosupplement
Odisha Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) Chief Naveen Patnaik meets party workers during an election campaign for the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls, in Balasore. File photo

Odisha Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) Chief Naveen Patnaik meets party workers during an election campaign for the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls, in Balasore. File photo
| Photo Credit: ANI

The Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal’s attempts to send more women to the State Assembly and Lok Sabha came out a cropper with only five out of 41 women candidates winning the election, halting the trend of party’s successful run with women candidates.

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The regional party, which was a great advocate of 33% reservation for women in Parliament, had fielded 41 women in both assembly and Lok Sabha seats. Only five managed to win, registering a strike rate of 12.19%. 

Since the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD had been nominating seven out of total 21 parliamentary seats which comes to 33% representations. This year, it had also maintained the tradition nominating seven women candidates for Lok Sabha. As the saffron party swept, none of BJD Lok Sabha women candidates could win their seat.

BJD’s 34 woman candidates accounting 23.12% in the 147-member Assembly were said to be very high percentage of female nomination ever fielded by any political party in the State. However, only five of them could manage to win.

Critics argued that the regional party prioritized fielding women with connections to established political families or leaders, neglecting the factor of winnability. Consequently, 13 women candidates from political families faced defeat in the recently concluded elections.

Former State Revenue and Disaster Management Minister Sudam Marndi, who unsuccessfully contested the Mayurbhanj Lok Sabha seat, secured a BJD ticket for his wife, Ranjita Marndi, from the Bangriposhi Assembly constituency. Both lost their respective elections.

Similarly, Pranab Prakash Das, the BJD’s organisational secretary, lost the Lok Sabha election to BJP leader Dharmendra Pradhan. Despite his influence, Mr. Das could not secure a win for his mother, Sandhyarani Das, from the Korei Assembly seat.

The BJD had nominated Gitanjali Routray, Pritinanda Kanungo, Indira Nanda, and Sanjukta Singh, who are the wives of party leaders Sambit Routray, Rajkishore Das, Rabi Naranayan, and Rajani Kant Singh, respectively. However, all these women candidates were unsuccessful, likely due to strong anti-incumbency sentiments.

In contrast, the BJP fielded 10 women candidates, with five winning their seats, achieving a 50% success rate. Veteran leader Surama Padhi is expected to become a minister in the upcoming BJP government. Upasana Mohapatra, the BJP candidate and daughter of a senior Congress leader, has been elected for the first time.

In the 16th Legislative Assembly, dissolved recently, 17 women MLAs were elected to the 147-member House in 2019. Later, Deepali Das, daughter of the murdered senior BJD leader Naba Kisore Das, was elected in a byelection to replace her father. However, this year, only 11 women candidates were elected to the State Assembly. Sofia Firdous is the lone Congress woman MLA, elected from the Barbati-Cuttack Assembly seat.

Despite the defeat of women candidates, BJD’s move to field women was seen as brave step. The win would have prompted other parties to choose woman candidates in future elections, said women rights activist. Outgoing Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had raised woman reservation in rural and urban local bodies from 33% to 50%.

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