The news that MLC Kalvakuntla Kavitha of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) is planning to sit on a day-long hunger strike in support of her demand that the BJP-led government must introduce the Women’s Reservation Bill in the ongoing budget session of Parliament had me thinking. Her hunger strike would be more persuasive if she could build credibility on the issue of women’s empowerment. I have a few suggestions to that end, though I can understand if she distrusts my proposals, since I am an office-bearer of a party opposed to hers and its main rival for power in the state.
My first suggestion would be to convince BRS party supremo and Telangana Chief Minister Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) to reshuffle his Cabinet to include at least six women ministers. As KCR is her father, I assume this is a low-hanging fruit and will give Kavitha quick success. She could follow this up with a request to her brother KT Rama Rao (KTR) to let the women ministers appear to be running their ministries without interference and to not repeat instances like the IIIT episode with Education Minister Sabitha Indra Reddy – at least in public. If they object, she can tell them to use the template they used for the lone Muslim Minister. Make him Home Minister but strip him of the crucial Law & Order portfolio. It would be good optics without the first family losing control over power.
Since elections are around the corner, she could publicly pressurise her father to allocate one-third of BRS party tickets for women contestants.
Another easy step she could pursue is to start condemning crimes committed by her party leaders and cadre against women. It has two advantages beyond costing next to nothing. First, she will appear as a defender of women’s honour and dignity. Second, she can be in the news constantly, as there are frequent allegations of crimes against women by her party members. She could burnish her credentials by rebuking her party leaders who use indecent language against our lady Governor and publicly advocating for extending minimum courtesies in their interactions with her.
Next, she could take up a single, impactful yet tiny and achievable cause, like, say, building adequate toilets for girls in all government schools and colleges. Luckily for her, her father’s government has a pathetic track record on this issue.
Moving beyond the easy steps in her family’s control, she could talk to the leader of their friendly party, Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM and get him to support the Women’s Reservation Bill. Owaisi has gone on record terming the Bill as “regressive” and claiming it was “not in the interests of Muslims”. But, while at it, she could also advocate for parity for Muslim women with Hindu women on monogamy/polygamy, divorce etc. The public would highly appreciate her strength of conviction.
Since she now belongs to a national party, the BRS, instead of a regional party, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). So, she should not limit herself to leading on the issue in our state alone. Luckily for her, friendly parties that share the stage with her party are fierce opponents of the Women’s Reservation Bill. For example, the patriarchs of the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal have ensured the failure of the Bill in Parliament on multiple occasions. They have even made disgustingly sexist remarks to express their opposition to the Bill. Mulayam Singh of the SP said: “Rural women are not that attractive, will not gain from Women’s Reservation Bill”. However, with the next generation taking over these parties, she could convince the young leaders Akhilesh Yadav and Tejashwi Yadav to drop their opposition to the Bill and become ardent supporters. I am sure the BRS party would not have allied or tried to ally with parties that do not share common ground on such vital an agenda as equal opportunities for women.
I am sure Kavitha knows that the Bharatiya Janata Party originally proposed the Women’s Reservation Bill during the Atal Behari Vajpayee regime. BJP has steadfastly stood for women’s empowerment over the years. From eleven women ministers in the current Council of Ministers to Permanent Commissions for Women Officers, the Modi government’s belief in Nari Shakti to power New India is well-known. Everyone, including Kavitha, will find a supportive party in BJP on the Women’s Reservation Bill if they build credibility on women’s issues and help build consensus.
Otherwise, the public will overwhelmingly question her intentions and see her planned protest at Jantar Mantar as a design to claim she was arrested in the liquor scam because she was fighting for women’s rights – if she indeed is arrested later.
(The author is BJP TS spokesperson)