Political parties are realising that women voters can change their fate. Credit: Getty Images
This could be the first time in the history of Indian elections that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has released a separate manifesto for women in Madhya Pradesh. And this is not an isolated case. Other states like Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram, which will soon go to polls, political parties are going the extra mile to lure women voters.
The ruling party in Madhya Pradesh has released two vision documents titled, Samridh Madhya Pradesh Drishti Patra’ and ‘Nari Shakti Sankalp Patra. In the second manifesto, while the BJP has promised an auto-gear bike to meritorious girl students, the Congress has also said it will give subsidised two-wheeler loans to girl students. In Chhattisgarh, BJP has offered a Rs 2-lakh loan to women planning to establish any business and a Rs 5 lakh interest-free loan to self-help groups.
A similar trend was seen in 2017 when states like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa also saw political parties offer a range of things to women voters like pressure cooker, pension and bicycles.
This shows the increasing importance of women in elections. Sanjay Kumar, director, Centre for Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, says that bringing a separate manifesto for women shows that political parties are realising the fact that women voters can change their fate.
In Chhattisgarh, where the Election Commission had created the first women polling booth, women outnumbered men in the last Assembly elections. As per the Election Commission data, 77 per cent of women had cast their vote when 76 per cent of men used their democratic power to elect a government. Similar was the story in Rajasthan where more women used their voting power compared to men and this happened in 197 of 199 seats that went to polls.
This trend is not limited to states, but also in general elections. In the third general elections that were held in 1962, women were far less interested in voting as compared to the 16th general election in 2014. In 1962, only 46.6 per cent women voted their representatives while men’s participation was 63.3 per cent. In near 50 years, the men’s participation raised by 3.8 per cent while 19 per cent more women exercised their voting right. Similarly, the gap between men and women voter turnout in 1962 general elections was 16.7 per cent, which reduced to just 1.5 per cent in 2014 general elections.
This increasing number of women voters has not only forced political parties to consider their presence but also the constitutional body in charge of conducting elections. For online Assembly election, the Election Commission has set up all-women polling booths where the entire polling staff and security guards will be women. It began from the first phase of elections held in Chhattisgarh where five such polling booths were set up. Election officials have said that this will be done in all five poll-bound states.
However, it is tough to understand women’s pattern of voting. Kumar says that women mostly vote for parties led by women, especially when it comes to regional parties. This has been true for Trinamool Congress and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) when Jailalitha was there, he adds. Women voters played a big role in 2016 assembly elections and decided the fate of Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa. For AIDMK, women voters’ share was 10 per cent points higher than men.
While increasing participation of women in elections is a good sign, but it is yet to be seen if this can impact their status in the society.
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