Updated: May 10, 2021 7:54:12 am
The woman voter can give a decisive edge to electoral outcomes. That has been evident for a while now in the sharp rise in women voter turnouts in state and national elections. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the percentage of women who turned out to vote marginally outstripped men for the first time. Now, the woman voter and her choices are in focus again, after the West Bengal elections, in which India’s only woman chief minister at present, Mamata Banerjee, successfully fended off an aggressive challenge from the BJP’s electoral machine with a campaign that highlighted the delivery of welfare schemes, many of them targeted at women, and her identity as a “daughter” of the state. Women have been a mainstay of Banerjee’s support base in past elections; and analysis of the 2021 verdict suggests that 50 per cent women voted for Trinamool Congress compared to 37 per cent support for the BJP (Lokniti-CSDS). Much of the election analysis that predicted a closer fight in Bengal might have discounted this so-called “silent” vote. In the Bihar assembly election last year, too, Nitish Kumar’s welfarist appeal to women is believed to be a factor in the victory of the BJP-JD(U). Among the many factors that account for the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an undeniable one is his success in turning women voters into beneficiaries of schemes that provide gas cylinders, toilets, and bank accounts.
But while leading political parties are attempting to tailor their electoral pitch to women as voters — the demand for wages for housework came from Tamil Nadu’s political parties in this election — they have refused steadfastly to make more room for women as leaders and politicians. In these elections, for instance, women constituted only 10.4 per cent of candidates, and 8.5 per cent of MLAs. In the larger scenario, not only has the demand for 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament been sent to a deep freeze, political parties have done little to remove the structural barriers that stop more women from taking up roles in public life. These include male-dominated party structures, the use of muscle and money power, and rampant misogyny, evident in alarming levels in the Bengal BJP’s campaign.
Indeed, the “silence” of the woman voter demands more gender-sensitive frameworks that can account for their political aspirations. But, more importantly, the gap between their assertion as voters and Indian democracy’s appalling record on political representation is unsustainable. It needs urgent action from all stakeholders.
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