Sounds funny, does it? But these plaintive cries (nay wails) are reverberating in every nook and corner of Lucknow these days, whose citizens are going to elect their mayor and 110 corporators on June 23, 2012. As per newspaper reports, the city is divided into six zones and 110 wards. 10% (11) of these wards are reserved for scheduled castes (SC). Of this, 4 are reserved for women belonging to SC category. Similarly, out of the 22 wards of the city reserved for other backward castes (OBCs), in 8 of them only female OBC candidates can contest the local bodies' election. Another 25 wards are reserved solely for women candidates to test their political acumen. Thus, in effect, a total of 37 seats are reserved for women.

Almost all of the women candidates in the election fray are united in their efforts to project themselves as someone’s wife, mother or sister. Their campaign slogans as well as posters unashamedly announce/ portray their male protectors’ identity. Going by these posters it would appear as if it is illegal for an un-chaperoned woman to contest elections. One is tempted to believe that the election commission has made it mandatory for all candidates to mention the names of their spouses too. But then I search in vain for the poster of a male candidate meekly acknowledging that he is so and so’s husband, but cannot find any.  So it seems that men are trying to grab elections seats reserved for females by shamelessly putting up proxy candidates in the garb of their wives, who readily accepting to become the sacrificial goat. I wonder if this situation is endemic to the city of nawabs or a general malaise spread across the state of Uttar Pradesh.

What sort of expectations can one have from these women leaders who do not even have the courage to uphold their own identity, let alone exercise their rights? It is indeed a mockery of the entire process of reserving seats for this under privileged section of society, when all that it has done is to make them puppets whose strings are controlled by their husbands. The town is pasted red with posters and hoardings showing a demure female alongside a forbidding looking male. What a grotesque travesty of our democracy!

It is sad to see all talks and action on gender equality go down the drain, and there seems no point of reserving seats for women, if women candidates have to have the names and photos of their husbands alongside theirs in election propaganda. To me it is a pathetic situation which makes a mockery of all our efforts aimed at wresting equal rights for women. Women themselves are basking under the patriarchal veil of society which is suffocating them and depriving them of the live giving winds of change sweeping across the world.

Women apart, the city of Lucknow these days is working itself up to a state of lunatic frenzy as the date of municipal corporation elections draws near. The maddening cacophony has overshadowed even the last assembly polls campaigning. In total violation of the election code of conduct, posters and handbills are finding their way to every nook and corner of any conceivable space, including boundary walls of houses, pillars, gates and even wind shields of parked cars. Even the authorities seem to be unable in enforcing the regulations strictly—whether it is the blatant pasting of posters and/or over exceeding the time limit of use of blaring loudspeakers by the contestants for selling their wares of false promises.

When I expressed my resentment to one of candidates for pasting his name’s graffiti on my residence wall, he said that it was his well-wishers who were doing it despite his instructions to the contrary. Well, this is hardly a plausible excuse. It is these so called well-wishers/fans who create a situation like the emperor’s new clothes (for the uninitiated this a short story by Hans Christian Andersen about two weavers who swindle an Emperor by promising to make a new dress for him that is invisible to those who are stupid, or incompetent. When the Emperor parades naked before his sycophant subjects in his new invisible clothes, each one tries to outdo the others in praising his attire, till a child, in all his innocence, cries out, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!"). This breed of well-wishers, along with the clones of the emperor, still roam the streets of a democracy (or is it sycophancy) called India.

It is good to see that the government has put up big posters at vantage points of the city, urging the citizens to exercise their franchise. But it would have been better to display in public the rules of code of conduct, so that the public is at least made aware of the existing norms, and the candidates, along with their supporters, do not get any chance to hide behind the veil of ignorance. If only the flouting of any election norm by the candidates (or their supporters) would immediately disqualify them from standing for elections, then it would surely instil some sense of moral discipline in them, and the flock of their ignorant well-wishers would vanish.

It is high time women realized that their marital status has got nothing to do with their ability to govern. If at all, it has got to do everything with their disability to not govern. So all ye girls out there, it is high time to throw away the crutches of your husband’s name and status and stand on your own two feet. Else you will forever remain lame and never be able to walk straight. Amen! (CNS)

Shobha Shukla – CNS