Odisha has scored a first a month before the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. While the extent to which the ruling Biju Janata Dal’s signal of intent will attain fruition can only be speculated upon quite yet, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has announced that women will account for 33 per cent of the nominations for the state’s 21 Lok Sabha seats. This is doubtless a measure of forward movement on a critical issue that has eluded a consensus within the increasingly fractious political class. Small wonder the Chief Minister has advanced a fervent appeal ~ “I call upon all the national parties that they should be true to their word, and must follow what they are propagating for women’s empowerment. If India is to lead the world, and if India is to be an advanced nation like America and China, then women’s empowerment is the only answer.” The matter has been hanging in the air for as long as it has, and the political class must now give it to Odisha that it has shown the way to parties that remain ever so divided ~ and often hypocritical ~ on this count. Predictably, the announcement in Kendrapara was greeted with considerable cheer on Sunday, hours before the model code of conduct came into force with the Election Commission announcing the dates of the seven-phase polling. Remarkable, therefore, was Mr Patnaik’s timing. Having unveiled his plans two days after International Women’s Day (8 March), his initiative is nonetheless a landmark development in terms of women’s empowerment. Sad to reflect, the resultant euphoria across the state was decidedly neutralised as no decision has as yet been firmed up regarding women’s reservation in the state Assembly, which is scheduled to go to polls very shortly. In relative terms, that quota in the state legislature is closer to the bone than women’s representation in the national legislature, though the latter is theoretically more significant. It would be pertinent to recall that the legendary Biju Patnaik was the first Chief Minister of Odisha to have introduced reservation in panchayats long before women’s reservation in the legislature became a subject of national discourse, leading to a constitutional amendment. Of an attempt towards implementation there has been little; of an essay towards consensus even less. Logically enough, Mr Patnaik has extended the loop. It would be useful to recall that in 2012, the Odisha government had increased to 50 per cent women’s reservation in panchayats, indeed the bedrock of grassroots democracy and in a predominantly rural state. And alone among the states, it had passed a resolution to provide 33 per cent reservation to women in both Parliament and state legislatures. Mr Patnaik would doubtless have reaped greater goodwill had his announcement in aid of women’s welfare covered the Odisha Assembly as well. Unwittingly or otherwise, he has kept hoi-polloi guessing. Nonetheless, he deserves kudos for his announcement.