How Kejriwal failed Delhi’s women voters
Women want politicians who will listen to them. The AAP’s work in schools and mohalla clinics, free bus rides for women and subsidies for electricity and water was a major draw. But if Kejriwal really wants to be a game-changer, he might want to end an old bias and recognise that there can be no democratic representation if 48.1% of the country’s population is shut out.Updated: Feb 21, 2020, 18:24 IST
Following his party’s triumph in the Delhi elections, the swearing in of Arvind Kejriwal’s new cabinet had the stale whiff of an old exclusion: No women in the team. Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia’s explanation that there was “nothing wrong in repeating the same cabinet” doesn’t wash. Repeating a past omission is not going to fix it. This omission is particularly egregious when you consider the results of a poll-eve survey by Lokniti-The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, published in The Indian Express which found that women were 11 percentage points more likely to vote for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) than men.
The fact that women have, in many recent elections, turned out in greater numbers than men to vote no longer surprises. What does is the stubbornness of the parties, old and new, to share political power. Across ideology and geography, parties pay lip service to women’s empowerment. But when it comes to sharing power, their words ring hollow. Exceptions to this now predictable dance are Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, which earmarked 33% and 41% seats respectively for women candidates in the 2019 election.
Only nine of the AAP’s 70 candidates were women. Between the 203 tickets distributed by the AAP, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress combined, women got only 25 — fewer than the 32 candidates who face criminal charges, including crimes against women, finds the Association of Democratic Reforms. Of the 13 of these elected, one faces rape charges.
Why do we as women voters accept this bare-faced double standard? The truth is complicated. Data show us that states with high gender indices — Kerala, for instance — vote for the least number of women. States like Punjab and Haryana that do poorly on gender elect far more women — though unsurprisingly, these women belong to connected, political families.
So, given the shortage of genuine, independent women candidates, women end up doing the next best thing, which is vote for the candidate who has their best interests. A commonly cited example is that of Bihar’s Nitish Kumar whose record in fielding women candidates has been abysmal — though it remains to be seen if this changes in the forthcoming election.
Under Kumar, Bihar increased women’s representation in panchayats from 33% to 50%. He gave schoolgirls cycles to reduce the dropout rate. And among his pet projects is the empowerment of women’s self help groups — even implementing prohibition on their demand. Women voters, who have outnumbered men in past Bihar elections, have returned this love with their ballots.
Women want politicians who will listen to them. The AAP’s work in schools and mohalla clinics, free bus rides for women and subsidies for electricity and water was a major draw. But if Kejriwal really wants to be a game-changer, he might want to end an old bias and recognise that there can be no democratic representation if 48.1% of the country’s population is shut out.