The Gujarat government may have reserved 50% seats in its local bodies for women, but the actual beneficiaries of the seemingly progressive scheme may be none other than their husbands.
Dhirubhai Solanki is not an elected member of the Gir-Somnath district panchayat, and he doesn’t hold any official position either. But the BJP leader calls the shots on the district education committee’s affairs just because his wife, Manjula, happens to be its chairperson.
Dhirubhai chaired the committee meeting on Thursday, and even gave specific instructions to district education officer (DEO) NM Dafda. A video of the proceedings showed Manjula and other committee members – all BJP members – keeping silent through most of the meeting.
“Don’t go ahead with the proceedings… I will get this proposal cleared by the planning co-ordination committee (of the district BJP),” Dhirubhai was heard telling Dafda at the meeting, even as his wife bore mute witness.
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However, the BJP leader doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong in providing some “moral support” to his wife. “I made some suggestions before the DEO as Manjula’s representative. She feels confident in my presence,” he told HT.
Dafda does not agree. “Dhirubhai is not authorised to attend the meeting. Manjula should have been chairing it,” he said.
The move to increase reservation for women from 33% to 50% was conceived by Narendra Modi during his tenure as the state chief minister, and inserted as a clause into the Gujarat Local Authorities (Amendment) Act-2009 by his successor Anandiben Patel. However, worthy as the move may seem on paper, it has failed to yield the desired results.
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The new clause came into effect during the local bodies polls held in November 2015. However, as incidents like this portray, the elected members’ husbands (most hailing from the ruling party) may actually be the ones reaping the benefits of the move.
A BJP function to felicitate newly elected sarpanchs in January was also indicative of such a political trend. During a felicitation function held by the BJP at Palitana in Bhavnagar district recently, agriculture minister VV Vaghasiya honoured nearly 50 men while their wives – the actual village sarpanchs – stayed away.
The BJP played down the issue, stating that it was committed to properly implementing reservation for women across the state. “This is an issue that’s both social and political,” said Bharat Pandya, the party spokesperson for Gujarat. “As the BJP wants women to take charge, it plans to conduct training sessions for newly elected members. We will strive to create awareness among women, and encourage them to take decisions on their own.”
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