The new 68-member Himachal Pradesh Assembly will have just one woman MLA — BJP’s Reena Kashyap who emerged winner from Pachhad beating Congress’s Dayal Pyari. In the November 12 assembly polls, the performance of women candidates was dismal and only one out of 24 in the fray was elected.
The BJP, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress had fielded six, five and three women candidates, but only Reena Kashyap won the election. Kashyap, who had won Pachhad (SC) assembly bypoll in 2021, managed to retain her seat.
In 2017, four women candidates had managed to win the assembly elections.
Among those who lost the November 12 elections included Social Justice and Empowerment Minister and four-time MLA from Shahpur in Kangra, Sarveen Chaudhary; senior Congress leader and six-time MLA from Dalhousie, Asha Kumari who was a contender for chief minister’s post; BJP MLA from Indora Rita Dhiman; veteran Congress leader Kaul Singh’s daughter Champa Thakur from Mandi.
The women constitute about 49 per cent of the total voters in the state.
Interestingly, polling percentage of women voters was more than men since 1998 polls and the trend continued in the past five elections. The polling percentage of women and men electors was 72.2 and 71.23 per cent in 1998, 75.92 and 73.14 per cent in 2003, 74.10 and 68.36 per cent in 2007, 76.20 and 69.39 per cent in 2012 and 77.98 and 70.58 per cent in 2017.
In the recently held elections, 76.8 per cent of female voters used their right to franchise as against 72.4 per cent of male voters. The women voters surpassed male voters by 82,301.
Women voters outnumbered men in three constituencies of Jaisinghpur (SC) in Kangra, Bhoranj (SC) in Hamirpur and Jubbal-Kotkhai in Shimla district and in 19 out of 68 constituencies the difference between male and female voters is less than 1000 and the percentage of female turnout was more as compared to men in 42 constituencies.
In order to woo the women voters, the BJP had made 11 promises for women under “Stree Shakti Sankalp” and announced 33 per cent reservation to women in government jobs and educational institutions, corpus fund of Rs 500 crore to give interest free loans to women entrepreneurs, and bicycles and scooters to school and college going girls, while the Congress unveiled “Har Ghar Lakshmi, Nari Samman Nidhi” promising Rs 1,500 per month to adult women.
However, in spite of tall claims of women empowerment and sops offered to them, there is perceptible gender bias among major political parties and only 43 women were elected to state assembly in fifteen elections since 1967.
In fact, the actual number of women who made it to state assembly was 20 as senior Congress leader Vidya Stokes was eight timer, Asha Kumari (six timer), Sarveen Chaudhary (four timer), Viplov Thakur, Chandresh Kumari and Shyama Sharma (three timer), Anita Verma, Urmil Thakur and Krishana Mohini(two timers).
The first timers included Sarla Sharma, Padma, Lata Thakur, Lila Sharma, Sushama Sharma, Nirmala, Renu Chadda, Vinod Kumari, Rita Dhiman, Reena Kashyap, Kamlesh Kumari, Asha Kumari, and Sarveen Chaudhary.
As many as 206 women entered the fray in these polls compared to 4,347 men and no woman was elected in 1967 while only one woman candidate won in 1977. The women candidates made their debut in 1972 and four women, Chandresh Kumari, Sarla Sharma, Lata Thakur and Padma were elected and tally rose to five after Vidya Stokes was elected in by-election from Theog after the death of her husband.
Shyama Sharma of Janta Party was the sole winner in 1977 polls while three women — Shyama Sharma, Chandresh and Vidya Stokes — won the polls in 1982.
In the 1985 mid-term polls, Vidya Stokes, Asha Kumari and Viplov Thakur were elected, while four women candidates — Lila Sharma, Shyama Sharma, Sushama Sharma and Vidya Stokes — were winners in the 1990 polls.
Asha Kumari, Viplov Thakur and Krishna Mohini defeated their male opponents in 1993 polls while maximum number of six women contestants, Sarveen Chowdhary, Urmil Thakur, Viplov Thakur, Vidya Stokes and Asha Kumari, were elected in 1998 while Nirmala won the by-election.
Anita Verma was also elected in by-election from Hamirpur in 1994.
In 2003 elections, four women — Vidya Stokes, Anita Verma, Chandresh and Asha Kumari — were elected, while five women contestants — Vidya Stokes, Urmil Thakur, Sarveen Chowdhary, Renu Chadda and Vinod Kumari — emerged victorious in 2007.