Fair Presence

There are many women in fray in 2014’s election for 87-seat assembly. As the state is heading towards the last phase, there are barely three women who are in respectable contest. In case the trio, all from Kashmir, loses, more than six million population of the state will have no elected representation. Syed Asma details the unfair presence of fair gender in state’s power politics

Mehbooba Mufti during an election rally. Pic: Bilal Bahadur
Mehbooba Mufti during an election rally.
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Donning a designer cloak and a distinctive hairstyle and oversized glares PDP’s lone female face Mehbooba Mufti addresses party supporters across Kashmir. She is one of the three women who made it to the 87 member strong state legislative assembly in 2008 elections. The other two are Sakina Itto and Shamima Firdous of ruling National Conference.

But given the minimum representation that women have in J&K state assembly these three women faces are crucial for raising the voice of the other halves. This year 17 women, including some first timers, have filed nomination papers to make it to the 87 member house. However, if the present lawmakers: Sakina and Shamima (Mehbooba is currently a Lok Sabah member) fail to make it to the assembly then nearly 50 per cent women in the state will lose their representation altogether.

Daughter of a former assembly speaker, Wali Mohammad, Sakina is in a tough competition to retain her Noorabad seat in south Kashmir.

Dr Hina Bhat bows in front of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his Srinagar rally. Pic: Bilal Bahadur
Dr Hina Bhat bows in front of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his Srinagar rally.
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Interestingly, after Mehboob Beg’s resignation Sakina is the sole representative of NC in South Kashmir. Political pundits believe she holds the keys of NC’s last fort in south Kashmir, if she loses Noorabad, NC will be buried in the south for next six years, at least.

In 2008, Sakina won Noorabad seat by a margin of 4518 votes against PDP’s Abdul Aziz Zargar who passed away last year.

Sakina started her political career in 1996 after her father was killed in a militant attack. She was encouraged by Farooq Abdullah to leave her graduation midway and contest election. In the same year, 1996, she made it to the assembly in heavily polled Noorabad and became a minister after securing 12653 of 41327 votes. Immobilised by a series of assassination attempts by militants, Sakina has repeatedly retained the Noorabad seat. She is the only woman in Omar Abdullah’s cabinet.

Another NC female face Shamima Firdous, who represents Habba Kadal constituency currently, is in focus this election season. The reason behind this focus is BJP’s Mission 44+ that among other things eyes to consolidate 16,271 migrant votes in Habba Kadal constituency. It is one of the most f avoured constituencies that BJP hopes to win after securing second slot in last three elections. What is worrying Shamima the most is the fact that only a few hundred votes can tilt scales in a boycott dominated Habba Kadal.

In 2008 polls, Shamima made it to state assembly after bagging 2374 out of 5769 votes polled and became a minister.

Interestingly, Shamima is the only strong contender who belongs to a non-political family. Hailing from Baramulla, presently settled in Srinagar, Shamima is married to a government officer. She is accused of stopping her husband’s transfer orders for almost a decade.

Besides, what makes Shamima different from other women in politics is her successful marriage of many years. Others aren’t either married or have been separated.

Sakina and Shamima have been ministers but the other strong contestant who also has a potential of giving a tough fight to her male counterparts is Asiea Naqash. She never won but bags significant number of votes.

Naqash, an introvert, who hardly mingles with people, is contesting on a PDP ticket from NC’s bastion Hazratbal.

Dr Hina Bhat of BJP addressing public rally in Srinagar. Pic: Bilal Bahadur
Dr Hina Bhat of BJP addressing public rally in Srinagar.
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Sister-in-law of PDP’s Tariq Hameed Karra, Naqash in 2008 elections bagged 6769 votes (27.38 per cent of the total electorate). Naqash, who considers Karra her mentor and a father figure, started her political journey in 2002 when she fought on a PDP ticket and lost to Farooq Abdullah from Hazratbal. Naqash a law graduate was working with an NGO before joining PDP.

She is now contesting again from Hazratbal and this time against NC’s Syed Akhoon. Akhoon has been an MLA of the same constituency twice before.

In Kashmir there are not many women seen entering politics. Flipping the pages of history, it was 1972 when two women representing Indian National Congress made it to the legislative house. One was G M Sadiq’s sister Begum Zainab contesting from Amira Kadal and another one was Nirmala Devi fighting from Tikri, Jammu.

Zainab contested from her brother’s constituency which he had represented thrice – 1957, 1962 and in 1967.

Then there was a void of more than two decades, filled only in 1996 by Mehbooba Mufti and Sakina Itoo.

Both the young girls trained by their political stalwart fathers had a sweeping victory in their maiden elections.

Mehbooba Mufti is an exception among all women politician so far. She has been an MLA thrice and is the only woman from Kashmir to make it to the Lok Sabha, that too twice.

In 1996 elections, 14 women contested, of which only two won while the rest lost and 10 forfeited their security deposits. Later in 2002, there were 30 women contestants among the total of 709, but the result was much the same. In 2008, there were 68 women among 1,354 candidates and three of them won – Mehbooba Mufti, Sakina Ittoo and Shamima Firdous while 57 lost their security deposits.

It is not only Mufti or Wali who trained daughters to get into politics. The new entry into politics is BJP’s Kashmir face Dr Hina Bhat, a dentist by profession and daughter of a former NC man, Mohammed Shafi Bhat. She is currently contesting from her father’s constituency Amira Kadal.

BJP has fielded two other women candidates- Neelam Gaash from Zadibal and Darakshaan Andrabi from Sonawar. Though, they are not strong contenders but are in news because it’s the first time that BJP has fielded women candidates from Jammu and Kashmir.

PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed alongwith Asiya Naqash during Hazratbal rally. Pic: Bilal Bahadur
PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed alongwith Asiya Naqash during Hazratbal rally.
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Gaash, daughter of a doctor, who was running a local NGO joined BJP some two weeks ago and was interestingly given the mandate, the same day she joined the party.

Though, Gaash doesn’t want to talk about her past, it is said being a Shia Muslim helped her get a BJP ticket.

Gaash, a soft spoken woman born in Zadibal and presently residing in Bemina only likes to talk about Modi Ji and development. For other queries like why she chose BJP, why she got into politics, what is her family background? There is a constant reply…. “Please let’s not talk about it” followed by a smile.

Another contender from Sonawar, Darakhshan Andrabi says she is a poet turned politician and joined BJP “because Modi is very constructive and as we were hit by floods recently we need a lot of construction in the Valley.”

The women politicians have an aura of their own. They look different, probably prefer to dress differently and have their own style statements.

For instance Sakina’s Saadna hair-band’s and loosely tied scarf is her identity. Similarly, Mufti is famous for her branded sun glasses apart from being known for her vibrant coloured cloaks and scarves. Her hair style is unique as well. Shamima dresses in her own way and Gaash is seen wearing trendy jeans and boots.

Women supporters of PDP’s Hazratbal candidate Asiya Naqash. Pic: Bilal Bahadur
Women supporters of PDP’s Hazratbal candidate Asiya Naqash.
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

But they all behave in somewhat similar manner – ‘Mannish’! Probably this is what G B Shaw callzs ‘Company Manners’.

For instances, it is a rare scene where a woman donning a cloak guarded by armed men delivers a lecture on a bonnet of her ambassador car. Mehbooba Mufti has actually done it many times. It needs guts and an ample amount of energy.  Besides, what catches attention is the how Shamima deals with her party workers or Sakina addresses the public.

These features make them stand-out from rest of the women folk and are called the representatives!

But it is not natural, believes Nayeema Mehjoor, “women in politics have to put on a pretentious character of being strong so that she is been taken seriously by her party (men).” Mehjoor a journalist since last year is part of PDP but is not contesting elections.

Ironically, PDP being presided over by a woman has fielded only one candidate in this election. NC tops the list and has fielded the maximum number of six women candidates.

The fate of the dozens, including the three strong contenders, will be decided on  December 23, 2014.

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