New Delhi: This April 11, when polling begins in Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh in the first phase of voting for the Lok Sabha elections, a quiet breaking of ground will take place in the Northeast with two women candidates in the fray for the first time.
Whether they win or not, they have already made history by being the first women in their respective states to contest a Lok Sabha election.
Mizoram and Arunachal together contribute only three of the 543 lower house seats. But the entry of two women candidates in these border states have added a significance to the elections.
While Lalthlamauni is among the six candidates contesting for the lone Mizoram seat, Jarjum Ete is vying for a win against heavyweights such as the minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju (BJP) and former state chief minister Nabam Tuki (Congress) in the Arunachal West constituency.
While 63-year-old Lalthlamauni, a grandmother of four who also runs an NGO for the Jewish community, is an independent candidate, Jarjum, a well-known women’s rights activist, who was till recently with the Congress, is the Janata Dal (United) candidate.
Jarjum, who was the general secretary of the state Mahila Congress at the time of her resignation from the party, left it to join the JD(U) after the grand old party denied her the ticket several terms in a row. Upon being asked whether being a woman was the reason for this denial in a state where politics is dominated by men, she said, “That aspect would be one of the factors.”
While no woman MP has ever been elected to the Lok Sabha from Arunachal, till date it has sent only one Rajya Sabha woman MP from the state. Omen Deori was elected to the Upper House back in 1984.
Even in the 60-member state assembly, the entry of women MLAs has been minimal. The outgoing assembly has only two women MLAs.
This is despite the fact that Arunachal has more women voters than men.
Jarjum said, “Though we have come a long way in the last 34-35 years in Arunachal in exposing our women to various opportunities, but socially, perhaps we are yet to raise our young girls to aspire to be leaders. This intrinsic habit has not been nurtured.”
That’s the reason why more women are not stepping out to contest election, not have women voters gotten entirely conscious of the need to put their weight behind a woman candidate.
The eight Northeastern states, otherwise known for women’s participation in decision-making at home and in local markets etc, have a poor showing when it comes to their place in politics.
In this sphere, only Assam is a shade better than the rest: It had a woman chief minister for a short period in the 1980s – the only woman CM in the Northeast till date. In the last Lok Sabha, two of the 14 MPs from the state were women.
This general elections, one of the biggest electoral battles is between two women candidates for the Guwahati Lok Sabha seat: Queen Ojha from the BJP is fighting Bobeeta Sarma of the Congress.
Like in Arunachal, in Mizoram too, there are more women voters than men. Yet, the previous Congress government in that state had a lone woman MLA. Lalawmpuii Chawngthu was made a minister by the then Congress government in September, 2017. The state got a woman minister after a gap of 30 years. The present assembly has no woman MLA. Lok Sabha candidate Lalthlamauni too contested the last assembly polls from the Aizawl South-I constituency but garnered a mere 69 votes.
This Lok Sabha election too, the buzz is more around two candidates – C. Lalrosanga of the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) and L. Hmar, a joint candidate of the Congress. Yet she hasn’t given up hope. “It feels awesome to be the first woman candidate from Mizoram contesting the Lok Sabha polls,” she told the Hindustan Times recently.
Jarjum too is holding her ground in the face of a stiff fight between Tuki and Rijiju. “For young people, for the discerning voters of the state, getting a candidate who delivers good governance has been a challenge. I am basically giving people in the Arunachal West constituency an option to vote for such a candidate on April 11,” she told The Wire.