Rise in Women Candidates, But Where Are Women’s Issues?

By Manjira Majumdar

Politics in Bengal under Mamata Banerjee just got a little saccharine sweet. It appears only on the face of it.

With All India Trinamool Congress or AITMC or simply TMC MP, Moon Moon Sen, the daughter of legendary actress Suchitra Sen, today taking on Babul Supriyo of BJP from Asansol, it is less about issues and more about a cosy club of celebs. It is as if issues be damned, we are here to only maximise votes. When Ms Sen defeated Basudev Acharya in Bankura district in 2014, it created ripples because in 1980, Acharya, an old CPM guard was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time and re-elected from the same constituency in 1984, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009 – a record  8 times – before being defeated by Ms Sen in 2014.     

“Babul is such a sweet, young boy (baccha chele), I am good friends with his family, ” Ms Sen is repeating in her campaign trails as shown on NDTV channel on April 2 and covered extensively by all leading Indian television channels subsequently. It is not clear whether Ms Sen is equating him with political novice because Babul is the sitting MP from Asansol and a strong critic of Mamata Banerjee. He has even penned a hilarious song about the CM, which the Election Commission is scrutinising, while mouthing sweet things about his Moon Moon didi. Ms Sen hopes to repeat her vote garnering abilities as she made it clear to the Bengali TV channel ABP Ananda that she is here to win votes and votes only. 

But, what women’s issues has she raised until now?

As for now, the race is to maximise votes in Bengal. Issues, particularly pertaining to women empowerment, besides the usual platitudes, are not very clear or specific. At least in the last elections, triple talaq was an issue. Even manifestos are no longer sacred.    

However, the number of women candidates from Bengal has gone up significantly since the last elections, which saw 80 per cent of voting by women and election of several women MPs. According to a report in The Hindu, on May 201, 2014, “West Bengal has nearly doubled with the electorate sending 12 of them to Parliament. This is second only to Uttar Pradesh, which has 13 MPs. Of the 543 MPs across the country, only 62 are women, and West Bengal sends more than 19 per cent of them. The 12 women MPs include 11 from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and one from the Congress. The TMC is second to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in sending the highest number of women MPs.”

Read the detailed report for more data here https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/number-of-women-mps-from-bengal-doubled/article6028314.ece

TMC is contesting in all 42 seats. Of  these, 17 are women candidates. The person to look out for is ex-investment banker turned MLA from Karimpur Nadia district, Mahua Maitra. She is contesting from Krishnanagar, the headquarters of the same district. Ms Maitra, an alumna from Mount Holyoke, is extremely articulate, and if elected to Parliament, one can expect some good debating skills, something which MPs are increasingly losing over the years. 

Read about her in Times of India dated April 7, 2019: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/elections/lok-sabha-elections-2019/west-bengal/news/for-me-the-buck-stops-with-myself-says-mahua-moitra/articleshow/68758637.cms?

Compared to the last time, the share of women candidates has jumped to 41 per cent from 35 per cent from TMC alone including two new young female actors. Glam queen Nusrat Jahan is contesting from a very sensitive border area of Basirhat, once a stronghold of CPI, and Mimi Chakraborty, who models for a well-known hair oil brand, when not acting in pure commercial cinema. She joins a stellar list of names such as Somnath Chatterjee, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, Sugata Bose, (grand nephew of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose) and Mamata Banerjee, who had earlier represented various parties in this very critical constituency. Shatabdi Roy, another female actor, who is younger than Ms Sen and older than Ms Jahan and Ms Chakraborty, is re-contesting from Birbhum district. There are TMC women from other backgrounds than the entertainment industry; Mala Roy from Kolkata (South), a well-known political face, who was elected to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation earlier, Mausam Noor of Malda (north), who was the Congress MP from here before crossing over to TMC recently. 

BJP, on the other hand, which is contesting from 28 seats, has another female actor Rupa Ganguly as one of its members. She was nominated to the Rajya Sabha when Navjot Singh Sidhu resigned in 2016 so she is not in the fray but this time. BJP is fielding another female actor, Locket Chatterji from Hooghly district. The other women contesting with the BJP ticket are Deboshree Choudhury, Sreerupa Mitra Choudhury and Bharati Ghosh, an ex-cop and once close to CM Mamata Banerjee in addition to Locket Chatterjee. In Jangipur Murshidabad, with a sizeable Muslim population, Ms Mahfuza Khatun is the BJP candidate pitted against Abhijit Mukherjee, congress candidate and son of Pranab Mukherjee. 

Among the total 42 Parliamentary seats, the Left is going with 25 seats while Congress is sticking to 17 seats. The CPM has announced 4 women candidates while Deepa Das Munshi from Raiganj is a well-known face in the Congress.

But this time Bengal politics is not poised so much as to who is pitted against whom but a clear battle between TMC and BJP. To say it is an ideological battle will not be true to the whole picture.

The CPM and Congress have been reduced to side players. As Times of India noted in its editorial -Battleground Bengal -on April 4, “BJP is trying hard to play the anti-Bangladeshi migrant card” among Hindu voters and nudge TMC out of its comfort zone,  terming the incumbent CM as a “speedbreaker” to development, However, feisty Mamata Banerjee is a tough fighter for nothing. She even scheduled her speeches in a manner that she addressed rallies just after Narendra Modi whom she termed “expiry babu” left; to enable her to have the last word and save her State from divisive forces.

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Because it’s 2019: time for more women in legislature

By Ammu Joseph

 

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A deplorable scene unfolded in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly on February 12, with Speaker Ramesh Kumar’s odious comparison of his ordeal over allegations of corruption to that of a rape survivor being greeted with jokes and laughter by fellow (male) politicians across party lines. The disgraceful episode served to once again highlight a critical flaw in Indian legislatures at the state and national levels: they are essentially boys’ clubs.

The negligible minority of female citizens who gain entry into what are meant to be key institutions of democracy are invariably so outnumbered that most cannot summon up the confidence and courage to immediately object to such distasteful comments and conduct by male colleagues, even if they wish to. Media reports criticising the Speaker’s remarks evidently emboldened some of them to later meet and submit a letter to him, which eventually resulted in an apology of sorts.

Coincidentally, February 12 also witnessed the national launch in New Delhi of a new, growing, voluntary, non-partisan, Bengaluru-born collective called “Shakti — Political Power to Women,” aiming to work towards increasing women’s presence in legislatures. The top priority now is to persuade parties to give more tickets to women for the 2019 general elections and thereby improve women’s representation in the 17th Lok Sabha.

At present, there are only nine women among 225 legislators in the Karnataka Assembly, forming a negligible 4% of the elected representatives. There is currently only one woman in the state cabinet, with no woman among the eight inducted as ministers during the expansion in December 2018.

This is in a state that was a front-runner in enabling women’s participation in Panchayat Raj institutions a decade before the 73rd Amendment of the Constitution extended the three-tiered system of local self-government in rural areas and reservation for women in grassroots politics to the rest of the country. Karnataka increased the mandatory reservation of one-third of all seats in panchayat bodies for women to 50% nearly a decade ago. There is 50% reservation for women in Bengaluru’s municipal council as well. But the Assembly remains overwhelmingly male-dominated.

What else can be expected when major parties continue to resist fielding women for election to both Parliament and legislative assemblies? According to a recent analysis, only 5.8% of all candidates fielded by the Congress during the 11 general elections since 1977 (excluding by-polls) were women. The corresponding figures for the BJP and JD(S) were 3.8% and below 9% respectively.

Regional parties are not much better. In the last election in Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam gave a mere 5% of tickets to women. In the recent assembly elections in Telangana, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi gave women less than 4% of tickets. The Trinamool Congress is a rare exception, giving 15% of its tickets to female candidates in 2016, up from 14% in 2011. The TMC has 11 women among its 34 MPs (32%) and 29 among the 40 female MLAs in the West Bengal Assembly.

The percentage of women elected to Parliament and legislative assemblies has stagnated at around 10% nearly 72 years after Independence. Women MPs constitute less than 12% of the outgoing Lok Sabha, half the worldwide average of 23.4%. Significantly, the figure has never gone beyond 12% at any point. There are disturbing indications of a possible downward trend, going by the recent assembly elections in five states, which brought the percentage of female MLAs down to 9% from the previous 11% (2013-14); Chhattisgarh was the only exception.

Several countries — including smaller, newer democracies — have better records. Tiny Guam’s recently assembled legislature boasts a female membership of 67%. Rwanda, which has been setting world records since 2003, still has a slight edge, with women now constituting 67.5% of its lower house of Parliament. Sudan (30.5%) and Pakistan (20.6%) are also well ahead of India. The November 2018 elections in the US brought a record number of women into the 116th Congress: nearly a quarter of its voting membership. Women also make up 25% of the US Senate.

India’s abysmal performance defies all logic — except that of unbridled patriarchy and male privilege. Women have always enjoyed voting rights in independent India. They comprise 49% of the nation’s voters. In most states, the female voter turnout now surpasses that of men. During the 2014 general elections, female turnout was 65.3%, up from 55.82% in 2009, and the gender gap stood at a mere 1.8 percentage points, the narrowest margin on record.

Women’s alleged disinterest in participating in electoral politics is evidently a red herring. Most major parties have millions of female members. An estimated one million women have been elected to panchayat bodies at the village, taluk and district levels. Women may make up just over one-twelfth of candidates during parliamentary elections and one-tenth of eventual winners, and political parties may continue to be miserly in giving them tickets for state and national elections, but it is important to note that many women still do run as independents or aligned to smaller parties, despite the slim chances of winning.

Winnability is also obviously not the impediment parties suggest it is. According to data compiled by the Election Commission, female candidates have proved more winnable than men in Lok Sabha elections from 1952 onwards.

The findings of an online survey conducted on January 15, made public during the recent Shakti event in Delhi, suggest that voters are far ahead of political parties in valuing women. Asked if they want more women MPs in the Lok Sabha in 2019, the response of 82.2% of the 10 lakh registered voters across 24 states who participated was an emphatic “Yes.”

That makes sense. Recent research examining election data for 4,265 assembly constituencies over two decades (1992-2012) suggests that constituencies that elect women are likely to witness more economic growth than those favouring male politicians. Perhaps it is time political parties listened to voters instead of the customary other way around.

The piece was first published in Deccan Herald on February 18, 2019

No women cabinet once again

By Vanaja C

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K Chandrashekhar Rao. Credit: PTI


Despite receiving severe criticism for not having a single woman in the first cabinet of new state Telagnana, the ruling party has neither shown any remorse nor tried to make any course correction.

The second cabinet formed on Tuesday with 10 members is also an all male affair.  When asked why there was no woman again, a newly sworn-in minister G Jagadeeshwar Reddy said, “they are at home” (Intlo unnaru in Telugu). Interestingly, Reddy was active in Left politics as a student for long time and then later practiced as an advocate before joining Telangana Rashtra Samithi and mainstream politics. He served as a minister for education and power in the last term and continues to be holding the same portfolio this time too.

The cabinet was sworn in after 70 days of the elections results and the formation of the new government. Since it is mandatory to have a council of ministers to run the government, TRS leader K Chandrasekhar Rao had sworn-in as Chief Minister and took only one deputy CM who he interpreted as the “council of ministers”.  Thus the so-called expansion which in fact is the formation of cabinet happened only 70 days later, ostensibly in search of an auspicious day according to the strong beliefs of the CM in astrology.

The new cabinet is dominated by members of the dominant castes with no representation to scheduled tribes or women.  Similar to the comment that amounts to restricting the woman’s place to home they also defended that giving representation to weaker sections (the backward castes and scheduled tribes) was not necessary when the ministers are capable to serve all.

Women legislators who expected a berth in the cabinet couldn’t digest the consequent blow but kept a brave face as they wish to get one in the next expansion and it is now time for them to win the Parliament elections and not time to fight for their representation in the cabinet. However, it is interesting to know that the ruling party which made sure that the women’s representation in the Assembly to drop from 10 percent national average to 5 percent in Telangana has announced that they support the women reservation bill that guarantees 33 percent reservation for women in Assembly and Parliament. They made this statement immediately after the Assembly elections where they have given only 4 percent tickets to women, an all time low in the last two decades.

More on this here: https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/telangana-kcrs-cabinet-has-no-women-again-96991

Read the article on how women’s political empowerment was punctured in Telangana in the last decade of movement for separate statehood and in the new state here:https://nwmigenderwatch.wordpress.com/2018/12/22/new-state-same-old-problem-for-women/

The time for more women in politics is now!

By Nisha Susan

Some weeks ago I was introduced to the Bangalore-based activist Tara Krishnaswamy
by NWMI’s own Ammu Joseph. Since then I have been plunged into a world that
dazzles me with its combination of idealism and pragmatism. A world of people who
believe that we need many more women in politics in India and that there are a
million ways in which we can actually get there.

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The new group, set up by Krishnaswamy and Rajeshree Nagarsekar, was initially,
informally called the Indian Women’s Caucus but it has since then adopted the much
less bewildering name, Shakti. The group came into being soon after co-convenors
Krishnaswamy and Nagarsekar marvelled at the high-voltage energy of a round table
meeting of politically inclined women from seven states that Nagarsekar had
organised in Goa in October.

Shakti’s first task was to organise an event which would allow women in politics –
those already there and those aspiring to it – to discuss the problem and arrive at
solutions. The group, being non-partisan, wanted to ensure that women from across
the political spectrum would come together for the purpose. In a little over a month’s
time, the small group of volunteers led by Krishnaswamy put together Shakti’s first
national event in Bangalore. I wrote about my great sense of optimism and my many
learnings from that day-long event in early December here. (You can also read The
News Minute’s and Nasheman’s detailed reports on the event.)

In the run-up to the event, as I reached out to fellow women journalists, I was also
impressed by their enthusiastic response as well as their professional, considered
opinions about how women are kept out of Lok Sabha and state Assemblies by the
establishment with a fierce determination. A podcast from the New Indian Express
asked, “Given the substantial increase in the number of women in local and Panchayat
roles, why does this trend not translate to more women MLAs and MPs?”

After the event, many of us volunteers felt an odd sense of destiny and urgency, first
with the Congress announcing that they would back the Women’s Reservation Bill
and then with the BJP-led union government listing the Women’s Reservation Bill for
discussion during this winter session of the Lok Sabha. Yes, Shakti had lobbied for
the first and had fervently hoped for the second. But the two pieces of news made it
feel as if the decades of work small groups of women and individuals could now,
finally, be taken at the flood.

My own sense of feeling like I was being swept along in events larger than me was
accentuated by a moving email from an activist from Telangana. In 2015, Jesuis
Aruna had first written to us at The Ladies Finger pointing out that the state’s 19-
minister cabinet had no women in it. We had run a report back then and supported
Aruna’s campaign to not accept the same old fait accompli in the brand-new state.
And once you see it you can’t unsee the all-male political leadership. They were
everywhere from the cabinets to the trade unions, from the fiercest rebel organisations to Bollywood’s meetings with the Prime Minister. I have always been grateful for
Jesuis Aruna writing to a small publication and thus educating us about women’s
unrequited political participation all over India.

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And now, suddenly, the evening before the Shakti event came an email from Aruna.
She noted that, “Time quickly passed by and it is almost three years gone, and
tomorrow there is a election happening in Telangana.” And hoped that this time
#Mahakutami (the TDP, Congress, TJS, CPI alliance) would come into power and the
new government would have women.

And then, a few days later, she wrote again saying that the people’s mandate has
brought TRS back into power. She hoped at the time that the news reports that the
TRS would have at least one woman in the cabinet this time would turn out to be true.
It’s hard not to feel hopeful about the world with lakhs of women like Jesuis Aruna
who believe against all odds in working among their own communities. I am happy to
be able to write about them as a journalist and as a citizen to join campaigns like
Shakti’s current one urging people to call their MP and table that damn bill in
Parliament already. If you are reading this you could call your MP, too. For once, it
will be a phone call that will make you feel extremely happy.

New state, same old problem for women

By Vanaja C.

The recent Assembly elections in Telangana, the youngest state in India, with 119 Assembly seats, reduced the representation of women in the legislature to less than 5 percent, with only six of the 135 women who contested having won the elections. This amounts to just half the national average for women’s representation in legislative bodies (10 percent in Parliament and state Assemblies put together).

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The result is in tune with a trend that began with the separate statehood movement. It is interesting to see how the movement for separate statehood and advocacy for women in politics have travelled side by side but on parallel tracks and how they have contributed or not contributed to each other.  One cannot say the current outcome was created by design but it is worth noting that it came about so naturally.

Ever since the introduction of the Bill seeking to reserve 33 percent of all seats in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies in the Lok Sabha, there has been an active debate in the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh on the need to increase the presence of women in every sphere of politics. Although almost all political parties promptly announced that they were positive about the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, first introduced in Parliament by the United Front government of H.D. Deve Gowda in 1996 and commonly known as the Women’s Reservation Bill, none of them has walked the talk for over a decade.

The lame excuse was that it would be possible for more women to get elected only if everyone fields a woman in a particular constituency (which would be the case if the Bill, which mandates reserved constituencies for women, came into force). However, this logic was rightly questioned and the demand for a higher number of tickets to be allotted to women without necessarily waiting for legislation to mandate it has been made by every women’s organization in the state as well as many vocal women already in politics.

This finally resulted in a higher allotment of seats to women during the 2009 state Assembly elections. With almost every political party giving tickets to women, more than 200 female candidates were in the fray. Interestingly, not many women had to fight against each other in most constituencies, men were their primary opponents. Thirty six women won and, when the government was formed, six women were inducted into the cabinet.

This was the highest number of women in any cabinet since the creation of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh state in 1956. For the first time a woman was put in charge of the Home Ministry, a prestigious and powerful portfolio that has been invariably held by a man. Women were also given other important portfolios, like mining. Again, this was the first time women had been entrusted with portfolios other than the customary welfare-related ones:  women’s welfare, children’s welfare, social welfare, and so on.   Of the 36 women elected during the 2009 polls, 16 were from the Telangana region; the female Home Minister was also from the same region.

Then came the bifurcation of the state and the 2014 elections.  But before examining those election results, it would be worth looking into the parallel movements for more women in politics and separate statehood for Telangana.  If the demand for women’s representation in politics began in the mid-1990s with the introduction of the Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament, the demand for Telangana to be declared a separate state was also renewed (for the second time) around the same period, with some professors, school teachers’ organisations and students taking the initiative. While there was active engagement with the debate on both demands, the two discussions were always on parallel tracks, never together.

When the movement for a separate state intensified, and political parties were playing opportunistic politics, students of Osmania University took the lead, helping the movement spread and become strong.  Students actually showed the way to organise effectively for the cause. All student organisations came together keeping their different political agendas aside and formed a Joint Action Committee (JAC) with the goal of achieving the creation of Telangana. This became a role model for organising in other spheres, too, even for political parties. A political JAC was formed under the chairmanship of Prof Kodandaram.  Almost every wing of Telangana society also formed JACs:  there was an employees’ JAC, a teachers’ JAC, a lawyers’ JAC, and so on. If there were 100 people in a sector there was a JAC.

It is important to note that all these JACs were dominated by men. Women were glaringly missing in all the JACs, except for some token representation in a few.  There was a women’s JAC, which had drawn in women from many sectors, but it was unable to play any major role in the movement. The dialogue in civil society was dominated by the injustice suffered on account of being in a united state and the justice that can be achieved through bifurcation. Women could be seen in large numbers in the Telangana movement, especially in efforts to promote cultural traditions, like playing Batukamma (a festival of flowers revived during the movement) and participating in other age-old festivals, such as Bonalu. Kavitha, daughter of Telangana Rashtra Samithi leader K Chandrasekhara Rao (KCR), had launched Telangana Jagruthi, under which these symbols of cultural identity were revived with the help and participation of women. However, promoting the political empowerment of women was never on the agenda of the organisation.

The movement for separate statehood for Telangana was focused on seeking justice in three major areas: water, funds and employment. Accordingly, every debate was centred around the injustice meted out to the region in these areas. Gender was never identified as an issue even though statistics clearly showed that the status of women in Telangana was weak and that violence against women was much higher in the region than in the rest of Andhra Pradesh.  It must be noted that a few women did consistently raise the question of whether the new state would promise a safer Telangana for women. The question was not answered then but some minor attempts to tackle gender-based violence were made after the formation of the state.

Returning to the 2014 Assembly elections, a total of 317 women stood for elections in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana (the total number of contestants in the fray was 3910).  Only nine women were elected in the first election to take place in the newly formed state of Telangana, seven less than in 2009. At the same time 18 women were elected in the residual Andhra Pradesh, just one less than before. It is important to note that the success rate of female candidates was higher than that of males: 8.52 (women), 7.41 (men).

In the parallel general elections of 2014, while three women were elected to the Lok Sabha from the residual Andhra Pradesh, there was only one female Member of Parliament from Telengana: Kavitha, daughter of KCR, the TRS leader.

Interestingly, Dalit political empowerment was one of the election promises of the TRS. The party had even said they would make a Dalit the first Chief Minister of the state. Of course, this topic was never discussed after the elections and party head KCR went on to become the CM. It is important to note that there was not even lip service to women’s empowerment in general and women’s political empowerment in particular in the party’s agenda before or after the elections.

The most heartbreaking development was that the new state, which took charge from the united state that had six women ministers, did not give a single cabinet position to women.  Women’s organisations cried foul but nobody cared. During the entire term of four and a half years (the recent Telangana elections were precipitated by the dissolution of the Assembly in September 2018, before its term ended), never was a woman inducted into the cabinet despite the fact that the cabinet was expanded a couple of times, not to mention that portfolios were shuffled and new male members were inducted. Even women’s welfare was handed over to a high profile male minister, along with Roads and Buildings; he obviously never recognised women’s welfare as his portfolio since he took no initiative or action on that front.

The new government did announce a committee for women’s safety with an IAS officer, Poonam Malakondayya, chairing it.  She organised meetings and consultations over three months and produced an extensive report on what needed to be done. However, most of the committee’s recommendations were never followed up. Later, a joint initiative of women’s welfare and the police was launched with SHE teams meant to curb “eve teasing” in Hyderabad city but plans to extend it to the rest of the state are still pending. Another women-related initiative was the bifurcation of seats in city buses, with iron grills between men and women. Yet another initiative involved increasing the government’s cash gift to girls at the time of marriage – from Rs 50,000 to Rs one lakh. But, significantly, no special initiative was introduced to promote women’s education. Meanwhile, Telengana continues to pop up in every other survey/statistical report released by government and non-governmental agencies as one of the top places in the country that is unsafe for women in terms of both gender violence and gender-based discrimination.

By the time the 2018 Assembly elections came around, every political party had conveniently forgotten about their promise regarding reservations for and promotion of women in politics. Women were allotted very few seats in the recent Assembly elections.

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The ruling TRS had given only four tickets (out of 119, which is less than four percent) to women; significantly, three of them won (which translates into a 75 percent success rate). The Congress-led political front had given 12 tickets to women, while the BJP issued 14 B forms to women and the Bahujan-Left Front fielded another 10 women, including a transgender person. One more woman contested from the BSP. This meant that political parties together put up only 41 candidates for 119 seats.  However, a large number of women contested as independent candidates, put off by the attitudes of the political parties. So a total of 135 women stood for election, forming less than 10 percent of the total of 1,821 candidates in the fray. Women representing the Congress-led Front put up a tough fight and lost to their rivals with very slim margins. BJP candidates – both women and men – did not fare well. None of the women who stood as independent candidates won seats.

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Another interesting but heartbreaking part of the recent elections in Telengana is that women voters outnumbered men in many constituencies even though the number of female voters was slightly less than the number of male voters across the entire state taken as a whole. Telangana has a very high number of female-headed families, with husbands having died in the process of migration or due to suicide (usually related to the crisis in farming) or alcoholism;  or, of course, having left the family to seek other pleasures in life.

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It is not known whether the higher turnout of registered women voters this year is related to the high proportion of female-headed families.  But the fact is that as many as 55 of the 119 Assembly constituencies have higher numbers of female voters than male voters.  The gap is particularly visible in a couple of constituencies. Despite this none of the political parties thought of fielding women at least in women-dominated constituencies. Needless to say, every political party had done careful calculations and given tickets taking into account the strength of the community – aka caste – in each Assembly constituency. None of the political decision-makers seem to have thought that women, who constitute 50 percent and sometimes more than 50 percent of the voters, were important enough to be considered a politically significant segment of society.

Having won the recent elections with a good majority, TRS has formed the second consecutive government in the state, with the promise of building Golden Telangana again. The swearing-in ceremony had the Chief Minister along with a Deputy Chief Minister taking oath. A week later, calculations are still on to accommodate all castes according to their relative strength while constituting the cabinet.  The media are coming up with stories every day with their own calculations and guesstimates based on internal sources. No woman’s name has been heard yet.  And no wonders are being expected in view of past experience. The question of whether the new state will be safe for women and promote the empowerment of women still remains a big question.

 

(Charts by Urvashi Sarkar)

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Elections 2018: Number of women MLAs down to 9% from 11% in 2013-’14

 

Women in Assemblies

 

Fewer women MLAs find place in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh assemblies this time

 

Also in Telengana, evidently (watch this space for a detailed comment on that in a couple of days).

 

Assembly Elections 2018: Decline in women and Muslim candidates, says think tank

 

And, as is to be expected under the circumstances:

 

It is going to be an all-male cabinet: Zoramthanga

 

The good news is that such stories are appearing in the media now.  Clearly the representation of women in politics, Parliament and Legislative Assemblies is beginning to be seen as a matter of concern.

Time to take women voters seriously

Ammu Joseph

Not BJP, not Congress:  Women voters are real winners today,” claimed the headline of a December 12 article that highlights the fact that female voters outnumbered men in a significant number of constituencies in the recent elections to the state assemblies of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram.

According to Richard Mahapatra, “Women are the new-found constituency of politicians for sure-shot victory.  In a country where woman representatives are only a few, who too are accepted with contempt, they have become a force that is going to redefine electoral politics of the world’s largest democracy.”

Image from CSE article

What can explain this trend and what is its significance?  Are women now seen as a political constituency worth taking seriously?  Will the growing power of the female vote make political parties pay due attention to the demand for a more gender balanced Parliament and more representative Legislative Assemblies?

In an earlier, related article, headlined “It will take 55 years to have one-third women representatives in Parliament,” Mahapatra observed that “notwithstanding this much desirable electoral trend, what surprises us is the diametrically opposite presence of women lawmakers—hardly 7 to 8 per cent in state assemblies and around 11 per cent in Parliament.”

As he points out, in 56 years, India’s Lok Sabha has not been able to double its tally of elected women representatives. In 1962, women constituted just 6 per cent of the members of the lower house of Parliament;  in 2014, women made up just 11 per cent of all members.

Judging by the poor representation of women among candidates during the recent state elections (see blog posts below on the situation in Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram, for example), political parties are still not inclined to field women for election.  However, as this November 2018 article by Kundan Pandey, headlined “Political parties try to bank on women’s electoral strength,” points out, they are trying hard to woo women voters by making a range of promises in separate manifestos/vision documents and offering goods and services, not to mention loans, to persuade women to vote for them.

What will it take for parties to be convinced that equal representation is a more persuasive way to assure women that they matter as citizens?