Acknowledging that issues concerning women’s security and welfare will continue to hold centrestage as the state prepares for polls next year, newly-elected Member of Parliament (MP) Rajani Patil said she would push for more representation for women in the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) as well as in the party’s manifesto drafting committee.
“It’s true that we need more focus on women’s issues,” Patil said. “I hope I can impress upon party leaders the need for more women in decision-making and planning the party’s election manifesto.”
Elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha in a bypoll necessitated by the death of Union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh in August last year, Patil said the state’s women’s commission, headless for years now, should also be adequately staffed and posts filled.
The Congress party’s nomination of Patil, the first woman Rajya Sabha member from Maharashtra since former president Pratibha Patil in 1985, is seen as coming at an opportune moment when on the one hand there is a spotlight on issues concerning women following the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapist in New Delhi and, on the other hand, while the party’s alliance partner, the Nationalist Congress Party, has taken the lead on women’s issues through its recently launched young women’s political wing.
While the Congress party is led by a woman at the Centre, the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee has barely a handful of women in its ranks, including Patil who is also MPCC vice-president. Following the departure of Pratibha Patil from active politics and the demise of two-time MPCC president Prabha Rau, the party has no major female leader to showcase. Apart from the just-elected Patil, the only other woman Parliamentarian from the Congress in Maharashtra is Mumbai MP Priya Dutt. With 50 per cent reservations for women in all elections from local bodies to Assembly elections in Maharashtra, party leaders say female candidates with true elective merit will be difficult to find unless the party begins to nurture promising women leaders.
Patil said the idea of increasing the representation of women in Parliament should also be revived. A few years ago, some leaders had discussed the possibility of increasing the number of parliamentary constituencies to 745 from the current 545, and then introducing a larger reservation for women. “We could discuss this once again,” she said.
The election of Patil, who hails from Beed in Marathwada, is also seen as a counter-balance to the NCP’s aggressive ground-level party-building in the region. The death of Vilasrao Deshmukh who belonged to Latur, and the sidelining of former CM Ashok Chavan who belongs to Nanded had left a leadership vacuum for the party in the region.