Bihar Assembly Election 2020: More women candidates but fewer winners
Despite the pro-women campaign rhetoric and the commitment expressed by major parties to gender equality, the Bihar election has not translated into greater representation of women in the state. In fact, with 26 MLAs, the assembly has now lost two women legislators as compared to 2015.
This development has taken place even as the overall number of women contesting increased, from 8% to 10%. A total of 371 women contested the 2020 elections, against 273 in 2015. In 2020, 84 of them ran on major party tickets (the two principal alliances and the Lok Janshakti Party). (See Chart 1)
Two parties, the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), and the LJP, did make an effort by way of nominations, each selecting 22 women. But as these two parties underperformed in the election, and so did their women candidates: the LJP won only one seat; the JD(U) 43, out of which only six went to women candidates. In other words, the parties that made some effort towards nominating more women failed to convert these nominations into seats.
The BJP nominated 13 women candidates out of 110 seats contested. Nine of them won. The two minor partners of the National Democratic Aalliace (NDA), the VIP and the HAM(S), fielded one woman candidate each. Both of them won. (See Chart 2)
Within the Mahagathbandhan (MGB), the numbers are even lower. The five parties together nominated only 25 women candidates out of 243 tickets distributed. Only nine of them were elected.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is not a party known for gender inclusion. Since 2000, the RJD has won 430 assembly seats across six elections. Only 28 of these seats were won by women. This time, Tejashwi Yadav’s party fielded 16 women out of 144 candidates. Only seven were elected. Half of these 16 candidates belong to political families – either wives or daughters of RJD politicians – and half of these dynastic candidates were elected.
The Congress has not fared better, sending only two women to the Bihar assembly out of eight women candidates nominated. In 20 years, only nine women have been elected on a Congress ticket. The support that the Congress expresses for the Women’s Reservation Bill does not translate into practice in the electoral fray. It would appear that it is willing to include more women only when constrained by law.
The three Communist parties fielded 29 candidates, and only one of them was a woman. They, too, have an abysmal historical record. Since Manju Prakash, elected in Buxar in 1995, the Left parties have not sent a single woman to the Bihar state assembly. Thus, while the NDA and the MGB are close in terms of votes and seats, the NDA now accounts for two-thirds of women’s representation in Bihar.
Contrary to a widely held perception, women candidates are not limited to reserved seats. One woman candidate out of five ran in a reserved seat, which is only slightly more than the ratio of reserved seats.
Sixty-nine women contested in reserved seats in 2020, as compared to 48 in 2015, but their number also increased in general seats.
In sociological terms, women MLAs do not differ much from their male counterparts. They are equally distributed between major caste groups (upper caste, OBCs and SCs), and have the same age distribution. The main difference is that one finds a greater number of women candidates belonging to political families than men. Of the 84 women candidates fielded by major parties, we could identify 29 who belong to political families – either a politician’s spouse, daughter or widow. Only 13 of them won, which once more goes on to show that being a dynast does not necessarily provide an electoral advantage to women candidates, though it does help secure a ticket.
In political terms, women and men candidates do not differ much either. Fifty-four per cent of the 84 women candidates from major parties were first-time contestants (12 out of 46 won), against 46% of first-time male debutants. Eight per cent of women candidates from major parties ran as turncoats, against 12% for men.
The average victory margin of women MLAs was 9.4%, against 9.8% for men.
All of this points to the fact that the marginalisation of women in electoral politics does not serve any purpose other than perpetuating old prejudices and discrimination against them. Parties remain the main if not the only obstacle to women’s inclusion in electoral politics, since they control the nomination process.
This is all the more significant when one considers that a greater number of women voters participate in Bihar elections than men. According to provisional data scraped by Trivedi Centre for Political Data (TCPD), women’s turnout in this election was 59.7% against 54.7% for men, a gap similar to that in the previous election.
At the moment, the fate of women’s representation is tied to the goodwill of parties and the inclusive mindset of their leaders, as well as the ability of such parties to perform well. It is only when women find substantial representation across parties that we can hope to see a change.
(Gilles Verniers is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Ashoka University, Co-director of the Trivedi Centre for Political Data, and Visiting Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research. Samridhi Hooda is an undergraduate student in the Political Science Department at Ashoka University, and a research assistant at TCPD)
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