AAP: The Gender Conundrum

Guest Post by

Tara Krishnaswamy


It took the February 2020 state election in Delhi for the media to recognise inflation, education, healthcare, water and electricity as feminine gendered terms in the language of electoral politics.

Abetted by Delhi focused media blindness, so long have these issues been painted muscular that 11% more women had to vote AAP rather than BJP, citing these very reasons, before it was acknowledged as such.


The Hindustan Times (https://www.hindustantimes.com/columns/how-kejriwal-failed-delhi-s-women-voters/story-t4vEfO01CDqPT9V14TEbwO.html)

Times of India (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/toi-editorials/what-women-want-for-delhi-women-voters-this-time-its-aap/)

Money Control (https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/politics/delhi-election-result-women-cut-across-caste-community-and-class-barriers-to-vote-for-kejriwal-led-aap-4946731.html)




The recurrent refrain is that parties never win campaigns on governance issues, like water or education. This was not true even before AAP but it is almost accidental with the AAP!

Kamaraj, M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) and J. Jayalalithaa ran entire campaigns on schools, education, nutrition and healthcare, while N.T. Rama Rao (NTR) & Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) ran campaigns on health and nutrition. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) most recently used electricity. And many of them not only delivered on their promises but, as proved by CSDS-Lokniti polls over the years, targeted and secured a disproportionate proportion of women’s votes very successfully.

Women know that men are not the primary worriers when taps dispense air rather than water. Water has always been a “woman’s issue.” So is run rate spend on groceries and household bills. The infamous trope of the alcoholic husband beating his way to his wife’s earnings while she squirrels away a bit for roti, kapda and makaan cuts across India, reiterating the “one patriarchal culture, one nation!” narrative.

Parties, however, run their campaigns, rallies and communication outreach primarily for males, as is visible in the majority of their rank and file, as well as audience (see the image of Arvind Kejriwal’s roadshow below). To attract women, they amplify one or two of these bijli-pani-roti-kapda-makaan issues but usually link them to status quo stereotypes.



Roadshow by Arvind Kejriwal during the Delhi election campaign.


Take, for instance, the Swachh Bharat campaign that pried open the eyes of media and politicians alike and made them realise that sanitation is gendered. It used advertisements and endorsements, prominently featuring women, to construct that narrative, much like cigarette advertisements target men.

While the generic election is male dominated, parties sometimes run targeted campaigns door to door and/or air campaigns to catch the women’s vote. A woman’s photo is prominently placed to peddle programmes that are well worn parables of motherhood (birth control, anganwadis), mothering (vaccination, breast feeding), cooking (gas), safety (CCTVs), etc. Door to door campaigns targeting the women’s vote is led by the women’s wings of political parties, whose raison d’être is evidently to persuade the female vote, not construct female leadership!

What is fascinating about Delhi 2020 is that the AAP stumbled upon the women’s vote by delivering on promises that were neither explicitly conceived, devised, designed nor delivered for women. Nor did they target advertisements or campaigns towards women, barring the usual. Therein lies the accident!

Their manifesto promises since 2013 of water and electricity were driven by governance efficiencies; schools and healthcare by anti-corruption mantras.

Universal targeting of governance programmes not only allowed for a wide net of beneficiaries but also a catch-all vote base. AAP went after that nameless, faceless, casteless, genderless base in their campaigns until very late in the game. Almost nearing D-day, they discovered that women disproportionately favoured them. Nevertheless, no organised campaigns harnessed the women’s vote even as they scooped up a disproportionate share of the female vote!



AAP’s advertisements were generic, ungendered.


An examination of their electoral track record further cements the hypothesis of gender blindness.

They fielded a dismal six women in 2013 and 2015, and eight in 2020, for the 70 seats of the Delhi Assembly.  They fielded one woman in 2019 for seven Lok Sabha seats. None of the eight female MLAs made the Cabinet cut, despite four having been elected twice, two of them thrice, and had experience as Councillors, too. A uniformly upper caste, male cabinet is in place, barring the one Scheduled Caste and one Muslim ministers.

That basic governance issues impact women disproportionately, that they secured the women’s vote disproportionately and yet are gender blind in their allocation of seats and portfolios flies in the face of representative democracy. Women will still take accidental goodness over hate, but their good will cannot be counted upon forever.

Unfortunately, AAP seems like a typical Boys’ School network, mostly patronising and entirely unsure of women as political players.

A record six women from Gujarat in 17th Lok Sabha


Sonal Kellogg


Six women from Gujarat elected as Members of Parliament during the recent national elections were sworn in during the inaugural session of the 17th Lok Sabha on 17 June 2019.  This is the highest number of women elected from the state since it was formed in 1960. In the 16th Lok Sabha, there were five female MPs from Gujarat.  So the tally improved by one this time.

Gujarat is in fourth place among states in terms of the highest percentage of women elected to the Lok Sabha: six women among 26 MPs, representing 23% of the total. All the state’s seats were won by candidates, male and female, of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Odisha emerged as the leading state in this respect, with women comprising one third of the state’s MPs:  seven out of a total of 21.  Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s decision to field women as 33% of the candidates given tickets by the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) evidently paid off:  all seven women who won the Lok Sabha elections from Odisha belong to the BJD.

The other states where women have secured more than 20% of their Lok Sabha seats are Chhattisgarh with 27% (second place) and West Bengal with 24% (third  place).  Next comes Uttarakhand with 20% (fifth place), where one woman won one of the state’s total of five seats. Here, too, the BJP made a clean sweep.

Women in the fray in Gujarat

In Gujarat, the BJP fielded six women candidates whereas the Indian National Congress (INC or Congress) fielded just one woman for the total of 26 seats it contested.  The BJP increased the number of women contestants from five in the 16th Lok Sabha to six in the 17th Lok Sabha. This is the highest number of women the party has fielded in Gujarat since its inception in 1984.

Four out of the six women fielded by the BJP were sitting MPs.  Among the other two women who won, one was the widow of a state minister belonging to the BJP and the other, Geeta Rathwa, was fielded from Chhota Udepur, a reserved constituency for Scheduled Tribes (ST).

The sole woman fielded by the Congress, Geeta Patel, contested from the Ahmedabad East Lok Sabha constituency. Said to have the backing of firebrand Patidar leader Hardik Patel, she also lost the election, along with all the other Congress candidates.

Sitting BJP MP from Surat, Darshana Jardosh, almost missed getting the party ticket this time even though she had won her seat with the highest margin in 2014. In the 2019 elections, Jardosh won by a margin of 5.48 lakh votes. The others who won are Poonam Maadam from Jamnagar, Bharati Shiyal from Bhavnagar and Ranjan Bhatt from Vadodara.



Twenty other women contested the general elections in Gujarat from smaller parties or as independents, bringing the total number of women who contested during the recent Lok Sabha elections to 27 – a record for the state.

Although all the major political parties have long paid lip service to the need to reserve 33% of seats in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies for women, they cite winnability as the main reason for not fielding more women for election. However, that excuse does not hold much water. All female contestants fielded by the BJP since 2009 have won Lok Sabha elections in the state.

The other large party in the state, the Congress, has a bad record in fielding female candidates. It started with two women contestants in 1962, during the first general elections to be held in Gujarat after it became a state, and it has never fielded more than two in any subsequent Lok Sabha elections.

In 2014 the Congress fielded just one woman, Prabha Taviad, who was the sitting MP from the reserved ST constituency of Dahod. but she lost in the “Modi wave” that delivered all 26 Lok Sabha seats to the BJP in May 2014.

No woman minister from Gujarat in union cabinet

Gujarat has had a female chief minister in Anandiben Patel but not a single woman among the Lok Sabha MPs from Gujarat has ever been appointed as a minister or even minister of state in the central government.

However, Smriti Irani, who became a Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat after elections to the 16th Lok Sabha has served as a cabinet minister since 2014. Earlier, Urmilaben Patel, wife of senior politician Chimanbhai Patel and also a Rajya Sabha MP, was appointed as a cabinet minister in the Congress government headed by PV Narasimha Rao in the early 1990s.

In fact, as far as power equations go, female Lok Sabha MPs from Gujarat have little say in the party and wield no power in the state, let alone at the centre.

Anger increasing

 Women leaders from the BJP, a party where very little dissent is seen out in the open these days, have expressed their dissatisfaction with the party for not fielding enough women candidates. On March 31, when the Lok Sabha elections were getting underway, Shania NC, a BJP party spokesperson and one of its  prominent faces in Maharashtra, tweeted, “All political parties need to wake up…” According to her, all parties were only paying lip service to the cause.

Shaina NC tweet

Earlier, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan decided to announce that she would not contest the 2019 elections after the BJP delayed declaring her name from a constituency from where she had won seven consecutive times.

However, most other female politicians have refrained from publicly voicing their discontent.

Gujarat Mahila Congress president Gayatri Vaghela reportedly said, “Gujarat Pradesh Congress had demanded more seats for women but party has to keep winnability and seat equations in mind.” This, when only one woman has been fielded by the Congress in this as well as the last Lok Sabha elections from Gujarat.

Walking the talk

Even parties where the president holds all the cards are not fielding more women, the sole exceptions being the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal and the BJD in Odisha.  Both Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik need to be applauded for not only walking the talk but also being able to take the men in their parties along, convincing them to accept and support this move by the party.

No one wants to give up power and all political parties have faced internal opposition from powerful men in their parties.  However, a good leader should be able to convince everyone to come on board if the cause is good and if the party wants to blaze a new trail.

It is to be hoped that the higher strike rate of women candidates in terms of winning their seats will make the case for fielding more women contestants in elections stronger even as pressure mounts for the long-pending Women’s Reservation Bill to be tabled and passed in the ongoing 17th Lok Sabha.



Listening to a sea-woman while covering elections

By Vasanthi Hariprakash


“Pombalenga yenge, paesalama?” (Where are the women, can we talk to them?)

Asking just this question while reporting on any issue has been the game-, or rather the story-changer, for me many a time. Just like it was when I asked this in Tamil, while out reporting on the recent Lok Sabha elections.

It was India’s east coast. The sun did a fabulous rise for us: slow, glorious, a golden disc above the Tuticorin sea. This was Day 5 of the 18-day 3-state, 3000-km journey that we had set for ourselves as part of what we called the Pickle Jar Poll Express – in an effort to understand the South of India by putting our chappals on the ground, and telling the stories we found, via video, audio and text.




Having started our trip from Thiruvananthapuram, my camera colleague Chinmaye Bhave and I had driven down 90 km from Kerala’s capital into Tamil Nadu and the country’s tip, Kanyakumari, asking diverse sets of people what their lives were like and what they would want their new leaders to do for them.  We had arrived the evening before in the sea-city of Tuticorin (also called Thoothukudi), a town that was in the news last year for the death of nine people in police firing when they were protesting against the Sterlite company, to take a closer look at the campaigns of two feisty women doing a face-off – both from renowned political families:  Kanimozhi of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Tamizhisai Soundararajan of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The night had ended late, but we were up early the next day, headed to the beach at 5 am to get ‘morning visuals’ for our footage before starting the drive to Madurai. Time was short. As I watched typical scenes of fishermen getting ready to go to sea, nets and ropes, pushing their boats in with all their might, I saw two men standing on the shore in deep conversation.  We walked up for a chat. One of them turned out to be ‘meenava samudaya thalaivan,’ the chief of the fishermen’s community, Krishnamurthy.

In a video conversation Murthy sir told us about how life is tough, how prices of everything from food to land to diesel for the motor boats have skyrocketed but, at the same time, the fish price per kilo has stayed more or less the same as it was 10 years ago. He spoke of how the government needs to look at their plight as their children no longer want to remain  fishermen/women.

The shoot done, Chinmaye and I were given fresh coffee in a steel tumbler and murukku that a guy on a cycle came selling.  Slurping the drink and getting ready to leave for our next destination, I asked Murthy sir, “Pombalenga yenge?”


“Oh, the women?” He signalled to two young men to come forward and said, “Take both of them to our colony.” They had bikes and the two of us perched ourselves on the pillions. We rode, wind on our faces, past the Tuticorin power plant, the turbines and the smoking towers.  About five kms later, we vroomed into a settlement. Instantly the scenario changed – coloured plastic pots lined up at the public tap, women and children in the queue, hens and chicks running around outside small box-like houses.

The women nudged each other when I told them what we were there for and called for Sundari to speak to us on camera. A lady, perhaps in her 50s, emerged from inside a house. Over the next few minutes, Sundari told us about water being scarce (right on the shores of the mighty Bay of Bengal), livelihood a struggle, respiratory diseases on the rise from the fumes nearby. I realised with shock – and only when she mentioned it – that the place where we stood was, in fact, the ‘Tsunami colony’: a place to which fisherfolk were sent after the devastating sea waves struck in December 2004.

“We did not want the colony to be called this,” Sundari said, recalling that they had said so to the government officials who had come to supervise the shift. Not only did they not choose the name, they also protested against it. “The tsunami took away so many of our people.  We want to forget that tragedy and rebuild our lives, and here you are giving us that name to our new homes?” she said. But, of course, their wishes were not heeded, and Tsunami Nagar now has close to 100 families inside its walled compound. With blue boxes for homes, a locked community hall, it is a completely unimaginative habitation, just like many other rehabilitation settlements one has seen.



The locked community hall.


One thing that Sundari said has stayed in my head: “Gudusaiyile sandoshama irundhom ma” (We were happier in our huts).  And that wasn’t mere rhetoric. According to her, when they lived by the sea in their old homes, the main causes of death were old age or, occasionally, the sea or storm claiming men when they went fishing.  A pregnant woman, Sudha, standing next to Sundari said there were now all kinds of illnesses:  children and adults with chronic cough, for instance, or constantly experiencing some ailment or the other.

“Earlier, when our children got married, we would build a new hut for the couple,” said Sundari. In the ‘Tsunami colony’ new family members get added to the already-cramped houses.  Sometimes, over the years, 15 or more people have had to be accommodated in a house meant for four or five. ‘Privacy’ is a word no one has heard. And, of course, they cannot afford real estate outside in the town of Tuticorin. “It is so frustrating. We have been keen to build a temple here for our aatha (sea goddess).  But that will take a lot of money.”

A data check online for the Tamil Nadu government’s post-tsunami rehabilitation efforts revealed that such projects received funds worth Rs 5,280 crore from external funding agencies like the World Bank, as well as the Central and state governments. These funds were supposed to be spent on “better mitigation plans, rebuilding of infrastructure, vulnerability mapping, relocating and rehabilitating displaced families and restoring the coastal ecology.”

A July 2015 article in Down To Earth quotes a coordination officer who said  there were only one or two agencies providing rehabilitation still left in the state’s coastal belt, while in the immediate aftermath of the disaster there were over 400 NGOs working on relief and rehabilitation.

Thoothukudi District has a coastline of 163.5 km and fisheries is considered a crucial industry. Tamil Nadu has the second longest coastline in the country among all states, comprising 13 coastal districts. According to a 2017 research study by the Fisheries College and Research Centre, the population of marine fisherfolk in Tamil Nadu is 9.64 lakh, spread out in 608 fishing villages. The nearby Thoothukudi fishing harbour (TFH) is one of the oldest fishery ports on the east coast of India.

The abject misery of the fisherpeople did not seem to have come up in any local or regional newspapers or television channels during the period of our travel in Tamil Nadu. Neither DMK’s Kanimozhi nor BJP’s Tamizh Isai had gone into the settlement to speak to any of the families or accept their petition during their campaign. “Kanimozhi’s convoy stopped for one minute outside our colony and she waved to us,” said Sundari.

We wound up our shoot, packed our equipment and drove out of the colony, which is when I noticed the faded board written in English and Tamil – and the story I would have almost missed, with huge lessons on how public policies and rehabilitation schemes work on ground:  Tsunami colony of Tuticorin.


Conversation with Sundari (in Tamil) available here.

Conversation with Sudha on life in the ‘tsunami colony’ (in Tamil) available here.

More information about the Pickle Jar Poll Express available here.



How have women fared in the recent Assembly elections?

By Manjira Majumdar


The Women’s Reservation Bill – aka The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill –  was first tabled in Parliament in 1996 and reintroduced by various successive governments over subsequent years. The 2008 version of the Bill which, like its earlier avatars, proposes reservation for women of 33 per cent of all seats in the Lok Sabha (ie, 180 of 543) as well as in all state legislative Assemblies, was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010. Close to a decade later, the Lok Sabha has yet to vote on it.

Predictably, women’s presence in the national and state legislatures has hardly increased in the interim.  The 15th Lok Sabha (2009-14) had been historic in that, for the first time since Independence, women’s representation rose above nine per cent, with 59 Members of Parliament, making up nearly 11 per cent (10.87 per cent) of the total. The 16thLok Sabha (2014-19) saw a marginal increase in the number of female MPs: 62 or just over 11 per cent (11.41 per cent).

The just elected 17th Lok Sabha was unlikely to be radically different. Among the main national parties, the BJP had fielded 45 women out of a total candidate count of 374 (just 12 per cent), the Congress 47 out of 343 (just marginally better at 13.7%). On the other hand, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha had fielded more women this time:  17 out of 42 (over 40 percent) and seven out of 21 (just over 33 per cent) respectively.

If the number of female MPs has jumped from the previous 62 to 78 women this year, it is mainly thanks to a few regional parties. Election 2019 has resulted in the highest ever number of women MPs in Parliament but their share is nowhere near the 33 per cent envisaged in the Women’s Reservation Bill. It is still just 14 per cent. 

Parliament vs Assemblies

It is interesting to look at the number of women who won the Lok Sabha polls alongside those who won elections to Assemblies in the states that went to the polls almost simultaneously in April/May this year: Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim.


As reported here in November 2018, late last year the Odisha State Assembly had passed a unanimous resolution seeking 33 per cent reservation for women in both state Legislative Assemblies and Parliament. In the run up to the Lok Sabha polls 2019, Naveen Patnaik of the BJD, Chief Minister of Odisha, announced that 33 per cent of the candidates would be women; women were fielded in seven of the 21 parliamentary constituencies in the state.

Fortunately, the customary gap between what is said and done appears to have been plugged by this regional party as far as the LS polls are concerned. Of the BJD’s contingent of 12 MPs in the 17thLok Sabha, five are women (nearly 42 per cent of the total). The TMC, with nine women among 22 MPs from West Bengal, is close behind, at nearly 41 per cent.

According to this infographic from The Times of India, the strike rate was as follows:


TOI infographic strike rate


As mentioned earlier, in November 2018 the Odisha Assembly passed a resolution, supported by all parties (albeit with some grumbles from Opposition parties), to reserve 33 per cent for women in the state Assembly. In 2014, there were only 12 women among the total of 147 members. Unfortunately, the situation has taken a turn for the worse this time.

During the recent elections to both Parliament and the Assembly, Odisha saw fewer people voting, mainly due to the destruction caused by Cylone Fani, which hit the state in early May (the worst disaster in the state in 20 years). The BJD won 110 seats in the 147-member House. However, the expectation with regard to female representation was far from met: only two women made it as MLAs.  Patnaik’s new ten-member cabinet includes one of them: Tukuni Sahu.


Tukuni Sahu

Tunkuni Sahu


The good news from this frontier state in the northeast was that the number of women standing for election to the state Assembly in Arunachal Pradesh increased this year: 11 women contested the polls for the 60-member Assembly. In 2014, the figure was four less. A woman candidate, a greenhorn, also stood for election in one of the two Lok Sabha constituencies. The thrust was to empower more women in the state and address issues of concern to the tribal society. However, the bad news is that only three women have won Assembly seats and no woman will represent the state in the Lok Sabha for the present.


To understand the record of this Himalayan state, known for strong regional parties, in terms of women’s participation in politics, it is worth reading this backgrounder on the politics of Sikkim. For now, the state has no female MP and only one woman has been elected to the local Assembly led by P.S Golay of the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM), who has beaten the longest-serving Chief Minister, Pawan Kumar Chamling of the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF).


Andhra Pradesh has four female MPs in the 17th Lok Sabha – all belonging to the YSR Congress Party. In the state Assembly with 195 members, there will be only 12 women (ten belonging to the YSRCP). Read more about women’s  representation in the AP Assembly here.





Who gets to discuss election results?

By Ammu Joseph


As the results of the Lok Sabha elections of 2019 trickled in from the morning of Thursday, 23 May, NWMI members decided it may be worth noting the gender composition of the panels assembled by television news channels to comment on the unfolding scenario.  It seemed worthwhile to attempt a quick, informal follow-up on the NWMI study of the representation of women in prime time news discussions aired by Indian news channels (Panels or Manels?), released on 1 February 2019.

A team of volunteers from among members of the earlier research team (Pushpa Achanta, Sonal Kellogg, Manjira Majumdar, Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Rina Mukherji, Kavitha Muralidharan, Sweta Singh and Varsha Torgalkar) watched prime time programmes (8-10pm) on 23 May 2019 for this purpose.  The impromptu effort was obviously not the kind of systematic, month-long monitoring done for the Manels study.  However, a total of 17 channels in six languages were covered (two Bangla, six English, one Gujarati, two Hindi, one Punjabi and three Tamil channels, plus the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha channels, which have prime time programmes in both Hindi and English).

It is important to note that the pattern of coverage on the day of the election results was different from the daily routine since the primary, if not only, news of the day was a fast developing story with the denouement expected the same evening.  Even though the outcome was fairly clear by afternoon, much of prime time, usually devoted to studio discussions on what television journalists decide is the event or issue of the day, was taken up last Thursday with live coverage of the victory celebrations and speeches at the headquarters of Bharatiya Janata Party.

Some volunteers provided inputs on the composition of panels at various points in the day when they happened to be watching the channels they had opted to monitor. A general impression that emerged is that the representation of women during prime time news tends to be lower than at other times, although there were exceptions to this apparent rule.

Even during prime time, the earlier slots appear to feature more women than the later ones.  For example, the CNN News 18 panel, anchored by three men, initially had one female and four male panellists.  However, later in the programme, which also featured a US-based male journalist, the female panellist was replaced by yet another male.

Another general observation is that even in panels that are not all-male, female representation is typically minimal.  According to one researcher, who watched English TV channels, the general pattern appears to be 1:5, with the number of women going up to two if the panel is bigger.  For example, while India Today TV had one woman among five panellists, Times Now had two women among eight panellists and Republic TV had two women among 12 panellists. NDTV 24×7 did a little better:  there were three women among the nine panellists in the studio, and the three persons interviewed on location during the programme included one woman (4:12).

Yet another general observation: female anchors do not appear to ensure more gender balance among panellists.  For example, Mirror Now, which has a woman anchoring the prime time show, The Urban Debate, had no women on the panel discussing the election results. Similarly, News 18 Gujarati had a woman anchor but all the panellists, including party spokespersons and political analysts, were men.

Neither of the two Bangla news channels monitored, ABP Ananda and Zee Chobbish Ghonta, had any woman on any panel during prime time.  This is particularly surprising considering that West Bengal, along with Uttar Pradesh, elected the most number of women parliamentarians to the 17th Lok Sabha:  11 each.  Going back to a point made earlier, the anchor of Zee Chobbish Ghanta during prime time on 23 May was a woman.

The gender drought was also evident in Zee Hindi, PTC Punjabi and, unfortunately, even in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha channels.  All of them appear to have assembled manels for prime time discussions on what was possibly the biggest news story of the year, and one with wide-ranging, long-lasting implications for the country and its citizens.

News18 Tamil also had no woman panellist during prime time on 23 May. Puthiya Thalaimurai had one and News7 Tamil did relatively better with a female anchor as well as a female panellist. Across the channels special debates featured hardly any women among the party spokespersons or experts brought in to discuss the results.

Marathi news channels appear to have conformed to the 1:5 or 2:more formula referred to earlier. IBN News18 featured a panel with one woman and five men, all political analysts or members of political parties. ABP Maza had two women among eight panellists.

On NDTV India (Hindi), in the earlier part of prime time, there were three anchors, among them one man and two women. The five-member panel comprised four men and one woman. The Prime Time show itself, anchored by a man, did not feature a panel but did include the speeches of three male politicians (albeit the leaders of the victorious BJP and the leading party on the losing side, the Indian National Congress).

However, as mentioned earlier, programmes earlier in the day in several channels had a greater female quotient.  For example, Mirror Now had two female panellists during the day even though it had none during prime time.  On the other hand, Times Now had none during the day despite the fact that one of two anchors was a woman and that women’s representation went up during prime time. India Today’s ratio remained fairly consistent, with 1:6 during the day and 1:5 during prime time. To end on a positive note, at one point in the afternoon CNN News 18 had an all-women line-up:  female anchor + two female panellists.



A rare ‘womanel’ in the afternoon of election day. (Photo credit:  Laxmi Murthy)


Decision makers in news channels are surely aware of women – journalists and others – who are more than capable of analysing and commenting on political, even electoral, developments.  What is it that keeps them from aiming for more diversity – in terms of gender, caste, class, creed, region – among those whose views are, presumably, meant to enlighten viewers?

The question of who will form the next government affects all citizens, and it evidently has different implications for different sections of the population.  A variety of perspectives is indispensable if citizens are to make sense of complex political developments such as elections and their outcomes.




A bold new role for Sumalatha

By Sandhya Mendonca and Poornima Rajarao


Contesting, let alone winning, an election at any level as an independent candidate is a difficult task, and all the more so when the goal is to become a member of Parliament. It was surprising that Sumalatha Amarnath, aka Sumalatha Ambareesh, assuming an active political role for the first time, not only dared to stand against a scion of the Deve Gowda family, pitting herself against the sitting Chief Minister’s son, Nikhil Kumaraswamy, but did so as an independent candidate.

Her resounding victory (by over 1.26 lakh votes) made history:  she is the first woman from Karnataka to win a Lok Sabha seat as an Independent and the first independent candidate (male or female) to win an LS seat from Karnataka in 52 years. She is also only the third independent candidate ever to win a seat in Karnataka in the history of Lok Sabha elections so far. She is now the new MP-elect from Mandya, a constituency served by her late husband, actor Ambareesh, for several years.




The sensational win also elevated her to the position of a giant killer. Sumalatha was not merely facing a  young opponent who was dipping his toes in political waters for the first time. She was pitted against the might of Deve Gowda, the former Prime Minister and former Chief Minister of Karnataka, who is as shrewd as they come, and whose family has a stranglehold on the Janata Dal (Secular), aka JD(S).  In addition she was up against the entire might of the state machinery.

Machinations were aplenty. For starters, three women also named Sumalatha filed nominations to contest the same seat and, lo behold, they all put up photographs of themselves dressed in the typical style of Sumalatha Amarnath-Ambareesh:  sari with a high-necked, long-sleeved blouse! Next came the personal attacks – the first attempting to dismiss her candidacy because she was not a local. When that didn’t hold water, since Ambareesh was very much a son of Mandya, senior JD(S) people, including Gowda family members, made distasteful remarks about how she was hurrying to contest elections instead of mourning for her husband.

The battle was also positioned as one that would pit Sandalwood community members against each other. Kumaraswamy himself is a film producer and his son, Nikhil, has debuted in films. On the other side were the late Ambareesh and his overwhelming popularity, Abhishek, son of  Sumalatha and Ambareesh, who also recently launched his career as an actor, and two popular young actors, Yash and Darshan, who threw their weight behind Sumalatha and were indefatigable campaigners for her.

But the star turn was really Sumalatha’s and hers alone.  She conducted herself with great dignity, not responding to scurrilous personal attacks, and impressed everyone with her campaign speeches and media interviews. Not for nothing has she had a remarkable career in cinema, having acted in 220 movies at last count. While she has acted in films in all the South Indian languages, with thespians like Dr.Rajkumar and Rajnikant, as well as a few Hindi films, she is best known for her roles in Malayalam films.  Her wikipage notes that her most memorable Malayalam films include Thazhvaram, Isabella, Nirakkoottu,Dhinarathrangal, Thoovanathumbikal, Parampara and New Delhi.

Ambareesh was at various times an MLA, an MP and a Minister of State in the Union Cabinet. Sumalatha obviously had a ringside view of politics for many years and intelligently made her decision to contest this time around.  She asked the Congress for support but, as a coalition partner, the party could not give her a ticket to stand against the CM’s son. There has been talk of backroom support for her from Congress leaders who used this as an opportunity to get back at Kumaraswamy. The BJP tacitly supported her by not fielding a candidate in Mandya.

Both Sumalatha and others seem to think women voters helped propel her to victory.  According to this report, several Dalit, Adivasi and women’s groups in Mandya had pledged their support to her. According to another report she herself was counting on support from women and farmers.  The uncommonly high voter turnout in Mandya this time was at least partly due to the increased participation of women.




Apart from Sumalatha, the BJP’s Shobha Karandlaje has also won a seat in the 17th Lok Sabha. So there will be two women from Karnataka in Parliament this time: one Independent and one from the BJP.  The first and possibly the only other Independent to win Lok Sabha elections from Karnataka was poet Dinakar Desai in 1967. Of course, it is possible that Sumalatha may join the Saffron wave, especially if such a move gets her a coveted role in the Union Cabinet.

For more information on the history of female candidates from Karnataka, read Afshan Yasmeen’s article in The Hindu.

As I (Sandhya Mendonca) noted in my Facebook post a few days ago, Sumalatha – who says she has played the various roles of “actor, daughter, sister, wife, mother with love, honesty and to the best of her ability” – is now set to play a new role as a Member of Parliament.


The way forward for women: Capture the booth!


By Tara Krishnaswamy


Seventy eight is better than ever and yet simply not good enough.

When just 8.8% are candidates, it is a minor miracle that 14.3% make it to the House. The evident paucity of women on the ballot points to endemic patriarchy in political parties but there is more to the problem than meets the eye.

Few women are candidates but fewer still are campaign managers. Manifestos, candidate selection, district decisions, campaign management, election finance and most strategic aspects, have little or no female footprint. Women do not constitute, leave alone lead, the life cycle of elections.

As a female party leader told me, “They always take the trouble to herd a dozen of us to the rally, and seat us on stage with the promise of a moment at the mike. We are carefully arranged in the last row of chairs, always a bad omen of things to come, or rather not to come. After hours on our backsides as showpieces, and hours of staring at the backsides of various male leaders, the rally closes with not a single word uttered by any of us women ‘leaders’!”



BJP workers in Patna celebrate the party’s lead on the counting day of 2019 Lok Sabha elections.  Irrespective of party, female political workers are visible mainly during post-poll victory celebrations.   (Photo courtesy PTI)


Running for office is but a culmination of the planning, arranging, setting up, organising, resourcing, managing, staffing, paying, and agenda setting of the election. But the politics of gender exclusion means that male decison makers at every level thwart party women, keeping them from occupying roles with authority. So what to do when the hands that hoard are the only ones that can apportion?

One approach is to start with responsibility, not authority. While party women are visible in protests as bodycount, in rallies as audience and in door to door campaigns as door openers, they have scant leverage. That leverage comes with booth level responsibility. And, when carefully built, it can make aspirational women indispensable to the party’s electoral success.

All parties struggle for booth level leaders. If the BJP is the strongest and most well organised at booth management, it is because they work on developing booth level cadre, leaders and committees painstakingly for months. Most parties, including even the BJP,  find it difficult to get enough booth level staff even though they are so crucial for bringing home the votes.  So they pay people to temporarily don the hat during elections. The hired simply do not deliver results on par, and here is why.

Booth level work involves the most basic level of social contact. A booth caters to about 1000 votes in the local area. For a party to secure those votes, these grass roots workers need to maintain contact with the voters in that area continually, disseminating party messages, linking local issues to party stances and in general drumming up excitement about the party in voters’ minds. In addtion, the onus of ensuring that rolls are up to date with new entries and exits also lies with these ground level workers. The more you are invested in the party, the more convincing you are to voters, since your passion comes through. And you build trust.

The pyramid forms with the set of booth workers in charge of those 1000 votes reporting to booth level leaders, the set of booth level leaders of an area or ward reporting to a ward level leader, and so on. This builds leadership at the constituency level and further  at the district level.

While there is a preponderance of women and men vying for election tickets and positions of authority in parties, that is not the case with booth level workers and leaders who are and have to be actively pursued and recruited by parties. Yet, they are the ones that build social capital for the party that converts into votes, and hence hold leverage to the tune of  a few hundred to thousands or lakhs of votes. This is hardcore electioneering, of the text book variety, the kind not only practised by the BJP/RSS but refined by them into an art form.

This dearth of grassroots human resources faced by almost all parties presents an open opportunity for women with a political bent. Women volunteering for booth level work can start building their outreach by using the electoral rolls in the states heading to the polls next. They can naturally reach out to fellow women, women’s groups, self-help groups, Anganwadi workers, health care workers, farmers (and by that I mean women) and, most importantly, students.

This will have extraordinary ramifications for women in electoral politics. When booth-level capture of responsibilities by women is well on the way to becoming a recognisable reality, there will be no more ignoring of the female force in electoral politics. The woman political worker will have the pulse of the people, and she will be the pull for the local people, getting out the vote. This will transform the dynamics of ground level politics, with the capacity to change both society’s and parties’ perceptions of the political strength of women.

Media can also then witness and report on the bond between grassroots women party workers and voters instead of focusing on female candidates’ looks and relationships to party men of significance.

If women’s voices are to boom over the microphone in political rallies, then their toil must carry over the voter rolls in booths. When women are front and centre in that very basic building block of elections, the booth, the cameo of male backsides will be a thing of the past.


Tara Krishnaswamy is Co-founder, Shakti – Political Power to Women.


More details on the representation of women in the 17th Lok Sabha available here:

Most Women MPs Ever, Yet Only 14.6% Of Lok Sabha

India elects a record 78 women to the 17th Lok Sabha: Here’s who they are

’78 female MPs is good, but it will take another 40 years to reach 33%

India Elects a Record-Breaking Number of Women to Parliament 


A rising tide of female voters

By Ammu Joseph


The headline looks encouraging:  Consistent increase in women candidates in LS polls since 1957. But it is misleading, as the very first paragraph clarifies:  the great increase reported is from three per cent in 1957 to nine per cent in 2019. That’s a six percent increase over six decades – one percent per decade!

Fortunately, however, the persistent, gaping gender gap among electoral candidates is in sharp contrast to the almost non-existent gender gap among voters during the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections.

Not only did women turn out in greater numbers than in previous elections , according to the available figures for the first four phases, but the gap between male and female voter turnout was only 0.3%, which is pretty much as good as none.



Voters queue to cast their vote at a polling station during the seventh phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, in Kolkata. (Image: News18)


What’s more, the turnout of women reportedly exceeded that of men in at least nine states and Union Territories, with the highest recorded in Manipur at 84.16% and Meghalaya at 73.64%, followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Uttarakhand, Goa, Mizoram and Lakshadweep. Even in states where men outnumbered women among voters – Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka – there was an increase in the number of female voters, which narrowed the gap.

The trend is likely to have continued till the end of the election season.  According to a live update by NDTV, after polling ended on 19 May the Election Commission reported that of the 7.27 crore voters who took part in the 7th and final phase of this long drawn out election, 3.47 crore were women while 3,377 were persons belonging to third gender.

The rising number of female voters had been reported during recent Assembly elections as well.

Another story on the bridging of the historic turnout gap during the 2019 general election quotes Gilles Verniers, co-director at the Ashoka University’s Trivedi Centre for Political Data, on what he sees as the factors behind the increased voter turnout among women:

“First, greater access to information through widely accessible mediums such as mobile phones has helped reduce the gaps that existed between various segments of the electorate, including men and women. Second, …, political parties have dedicated greater portions of their manifestos to women, which might have encouraged them to cast their vote. And third, the Election Commission has made greater efforts to register women voters over the past decade.”

Interestingly, he does not mention the possible role of the “pink polling booths” that Election Commission officials credit with having encouraged more women to vote.


Update (21 May 2019):

Women voters outnumber men in 13 states and union territories
Read more at:


Toxic tweets

Amnesty India has initiated a crowd-sourced study on the abuse faced by Indian women politicians on Twitter, saying that online trolling aimed at threatening and silencing them must be considered a human rights violation.

A 2018 study covering 778 women journalists and politicians in the US and UK found that 7.1 percent of tweets sent to them between January and December 2017 were abusive or problematic. The journalists and politicians received abuse at similar rates, and women on both the right and the left of the political spectrum were targeted. The study revealed that women of colour were 34 percent more likely to be the targets of harassment than white women. Black women were targeted most of all: One in every 10 tweets sent to them was abusive or problematic, whereas for white women it was one in 15.

A rare high-powered political “womanel”

Senior journalist Sheela Bhatt, who now anchors the weekly show, ‘No Holds Barred’ on NewsX, in conversation with Vandita Mishra (National Opinion Editor, Indian Express), Nistula Hebbar (Political Editor, The Hindu) and Radhika Ramseshan (Consulting Editor, Business Standard) about the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in the last week of the seven-phase poll process.