By N Satyajeet
Imphal: Women are always at the forefront in Manipur in most fields, but that does not include electoral politics.
The major political parties have given nominations to only a handful of women candidates for the coming two-phase assembly polls in the Northeastern state, where female voters outnumber their male counterparts.
Also, more women had turned up at the polling booths than men in the previous elections five years back. That election had got international hype after the entry of famed human rights activist, Irom Sharmila, who had fasted for 16 years demanding repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
The Iron Lady of Manipur began her fast from November 5, 2000, three days after the Malom massacre which saw eight Assam Rifles personnel fatally shoot ten persons waiting for a bus in a bus shed at Malom, Imphal. She withdrew her fast on August 9, 2016, and the next year pitted herself against the then Congress Chief Minister Okram Ibobi at Thoubal constituency. But the results proved a heartbreak for Sharmila, who received just 90 votes, the fewest among the five candidates.
According to P Thoibi, a woman political activist, power politics needs a strong political base, good financial condition and experience of long years of work among the masses. Even though Sharmila fasted for 16 years – a feat unparalleled in human history – people ultimately voted for those who were in a position to win.
A state election official said in the 2017 polls, there were eleven women candidates. Only two of them got elected – one each from Congress and the BJP. This time, despite its state unit being headed by a woman A. Sharda, the ruling BJP has fielded only three women among its 60 contestants – a miserable five percent, whereas females constitute almost half the population in the state.
Sharda, the first woman chief of Manipur BJP, is not a contestant, even though she is campaigning hard, particularly for the women candidates nominated by her party – former Social Welfare minister Nemcha Kipgen from Kangpokpi, Olish from Chandel and Kebi from Naoria Pakhanglakpa seats.
She said Kipgen, the lone woman minister in the N Biren Singh government, was able to take up various schemes in her constituency which were outstanding. “Women candidates can reach out to the masses more easily,”she said. Kipgen said she was able to implement the schemes and programmes of the government effectively in Kangpokpi district.
“People across the state have helped me in fighting the Covid pandemic,” she added. The opposition Congress is in the fray for 54 seats, and it has also seen merit in only three women, who figure in the grand old party’s list. Foremost among the Congress nominees is former Social Welfare Minister Akoijam Mirabai.
Aribam Pramodini of Keishamthong and Thokchom Ithoibi Devi of Oinam complete the Congress list. Congress leader Olen Moirangthem said even though there are large numbers of women who are actively involved in politics, only a few of them applied for tickets.
“Once the Women’s Reservation Bill is passed and enforced, we can expect more women representation in the state Legislatures and Parliament,” he said.
The National People’s Party too has named only three women among the 44 candidates it has announced so far. The nominees are W Sumati in Lamsang, I Nalini in Oinam, Thangthatling Sinate in Tipaimukh constituencies respectively.
Another woman who has been in the limelight is Brinda Thounaojam who was known for her fight against the drug warlords as a Manipur Police officer. She resigned from the ornate service in protest against the court acquittal of former Chandel Autonomous District Council chairman Lhukhosei Zou in connection with a drug seizure case and is now contesting from the Yaiskul seat as a candidate of Janata Dal (United).
Brinda said she will continue to fight for justice. She is going house to house meeting people, promising to throw a tough challenge to sitting BJP Minister Th Satyabrata.
The election official said in the last Assembly election 89 percent of women exercised their franchise, as against 84 percent of men who cast their vote. According to Chief Electoral Officer, Manipur, Rajesh Agrawal, there are 9,85,119 male voters while the number of female voters is 10,49,639 for the coming polls.
District Election Officer, Imphal East, Kh Diana said about 130 polling stations in the district will be completely manned by women. In Imphal West, the Singjamei Assembly Constituency will be supervised by an all-women polling personnel to encourage more female voters according to Th Kirankumar, DEO, Imphal West.
Woman activist A Ranjita said in most election meetings only women are being seen and they are toiling hard for their candidates. “There are not many women politicians and most of them work behind the wings for men.
The will and independence of women to go out and fight elections are lacking due to economic and social conditions”, she said. Manipur will go to the polls on February 28 and March 5.