The homepage of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee's website prominently features a striking banner with the empowering slogan, "Ladki Hoon Lad Sakti Hoon" (I am a girl, I can fight). This resonates strongly with the party's earlier commitment, spearheaded by Priyanka Gandhi, during the 2022 Assembly elections.

At that time, the party pledged to allocate 40 percent of its tickets to women candidates, championing their active participation in politics.

However, a mere two years later, it appears that the party may have veered away from the initial promise of gender representation. A recent revelation in the list of 130 individuals appointed as office-bearers for the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) indicates a stark contrast. Only five women have secured a place on this comprehensive roster.

This disparity raises questions about the party's commitment to gender inclusivity and providing a platform for women leaders within its ranks. The juxtaposition between the bold slogan adorning the website and the limited representation of women in key positions suggests a potential gap between rhetoric and action.

In an exclusive conversation with The Citizen, a senior women leader from the party, who hasn't secured a spot on the list, voiced her concerns. She alleges that a faction within the party, harbouring anti-women sentiments, has managed to infiltrate the inner circles of Priyanka Gandhi. These individuals, she claims, are manipulating and misguiding the party leaders on crucial matters.

"Both Priyanka Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are deeply committed to advocating for important causes and tirelessly strive to incorporate them into the party's policies. However, there exists a faction within the party that operates with a patriarchal mindset, hindering the progress of women leaders.

“Regrettably, some of these individuals occupy significant positions and maintain close ties with the topmost leadership. It is their influence that, in my opinion, contributes to the party's occasional missteps," she said to The Citizen.

Furthermore, the discontent is palpable among many party members regarding Priyanka Gandhi's perceived absence from Uttar Pradesh, especially following the party's disheartening defeat in last year's assembly election. They argue that her physical presence in the state is crucial for rebuilding and reorganising the party.

"Priyanka Gandhi has rarely visited Uttar Pradesh after the debacle in 2022; this has brought to a halt the policies that were being discussed during the election. In turn, many local leaders and so-called power brokers are calling shots in the party. For them, their interests are always above the interest of the party, and if this continues, things look grim in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections," another leader asserted, requesting anonymity.

“There is a need for a thorough evaluation of the party's leadership structure and a commitment to fostering an inclusive and equitable environment for all members, irrespective of gender," she added.

However, the party leadership staunchly denies any intentional exclusion of women from the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee list, asserting that the selection process is grounded in a pragmatic consideration of societal realities. According to party spokespersons, the intricate dynamics of Uttar Pradesh's political landscape, coupled with the prevailing socio-cultural conditions, play a pivotal role in shaping the composition of the committee.

They emphasised that while the party remains steadfast in its commitment to gender inclusivity, the practical challenges and regional intricacies necessitate a nuanced approach. Factors such as existing power structures, historical biases, and the need for broader social acceptance are purportedly taken into account during the selection process.

Anil Yadav, the General Secretary of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC), shed light on the factors influencing the composition of the committee, and the limited representation of women. He pointed out that individuals included in the UPCC often find themselves stationed in distant districts for extended periods, a necessity dictated by certain rules.

In the context of the prevailing social reality and the patriarchal nature of our society, Yadav claimed that this makes it ‘challenging for women to stay away from their families’. According to him, this was one of several factors contributing to the apparent underrepresentation of women on the committee.

Yadav, however, admitted that despite these challenges, the representation of women in the current list could have been more substantial. “Yes, it wouldn't be wrong to say that the representation is dismal in this list, and it could have been better. If there is an expansion in the future, we will ensure that the participation of women sees an upward trend, Yadav said.

However, another Congress functionary stated that Priyanka Gandhi had lost interest in the "Ladki Hoon Lad Sakti Hoon" slogan. “There was a segment within the Congress party, mostly senior Congress functionaries, who did not want this slogan to remain as it is. They advocated for an open-ended approach, expressing concerns that its revolutionary nature might have negative electoral impacts.

“Some Congress leaders also suggested that it implies that Congress is fostering infighting within families by using this slogan. However, the senior leadership of the party wanted to go with the suggestions of the younger generations, many of them working in Congress as paid employees,” the Congress leader told The Citizen.

Interestingly three of the five women included in the list are those who have come to Congress from other parties, Archana Rathore from Pragatisheel SP, Sarital Patel from CPI(ML), and Purvi Verma from Samajwadi Party.

In a conversation with The Citizen, Sarita Patel expressed optimism, stating that this current list is not the final one, and there are plans for further expansion of the Committee, ensuring more women will secure a place.

“It's crucial to understand that this isn't the conclusive version of the list. There are imminent expansion plans, and the party is well aware of the necessity to include more women. Additionally, it's important to note that this list primarily comprises full-time party workers.

“Unfortunately, there exists a slight gap in the representation of full-time workers, but it's imperative to recognize that this issue extends beyond the confines of Congress; it's a societal problem,” Sarita Patel said.

“If you examine other committees within the Congress party, you will recognize that there is greater representation for women compared to many other places. The slogan 'Ladki Hoon Lad Sakti Hoon' isn't limited to Uttar Pradesh alone; Congress is committed to women's representation across the board. The 33 percent representation that we are discussing today is a Congress initiative,” she added.