How women are shaping political outcomes in India | Opinion
Believe it or not, there is a silent revolution sweeping across India.
After Independence, taking advantage of existing social inequities, opportunistic politicians established a system based on “values of power” instead of “power of values”. But today social pressure and the ability of a political leader in delivering development goals are changing the nature of politics. The return of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal in the Delhi assembly election with a thumping majority can be attributed to this change in the mindset of voters.
Kejriwal won because he convinced Delhi’s voters that his priority is the establishment of a welfare State. Irrespective of the impact of Kejriwal’s claims and promises on male voters, women and the young people of Delhi stood by his vision and voted for him in large numbers. The Election Commission of India (ECI) data reveals that the percentage of women voters in Delhi stood at 62.55%. Though it was a little less than in the previous Delhi assembly elections, this may have helped the AAP get an edge.
In a city teeming with middle-class families, free electricity, water, health, and education made a considerable impact on women. To some, these facilities may look insignificant, but for the common people of the city, these amenities can change the quality of life and secure their futures. It is the difference between a comfortable existence and poverty; it provides an additional income cushion, much-needed in these hard economic times. In addition, the heated political discourse on the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests at Shaheen Bagh must have left women disturbed about the implications of possible large-scale violence in Delhi on them and their families.
It’s not just Delhi that has turned a new leaf. In Bihar, chief minister Nitish Kumar has been winning elections by advocating a welfare State that is free from fear and insecurities. In the 2005 assembly elections in Bihar, no political party got a majority. As a result, elections were held again in October. Kumar won decisively as the leader of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and stayed in power for the next nine years.
As soon as he was elected as CM, Kumar reserved 50% of seats for women in panchayats and local bodies. In 2007, he distributed bicycles to school-going girls to ensure that they don’t drop out of school. The strict implementation of the alcohol prohibition law, in his current term, was also a result of a strong demand of the women in the state. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also benefited from Kumar’s concern for the common people and has expanded its footprint over the past decade-and-a-half.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also proved to be resoundingly popular among women and the young at the national level. His government’s Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana, which focused on the protection and education of the girl child, and the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, which saw the distribution of gas cylinders, and Swachh Bharat, which saw the construction of toilets, sealed his victory in the 2019 general elections. The BJP may not have been able to win elections in Delhi, but the Mood of the Nation survey by India Today shows Modi is still the most popular leader in the country.
Women do not like discriminatory politics. In Delhi, the BJP paid a heavy price for the kind of coarse language its leaders used in the election rallies, while the AAP’s campaign remained balanced and positive. After the election results were declared on February 11, Union home minister Amit Shah said statements such as “goli maro” and “Indo-Pak match” should not have been made by BJP leaders during the Delhi assembly election campaign, and that such remarks may have led to the party’s defeat. This is also the latest example of social pressures on politics.
According to the ECI, 8.4% more men voted in the 2004 general elections, compared to women. But in the 2019 general elections, more women voted than men. In the 73 years since Independence, the first four decades were male-dominated. The other half of the population is now rapidly bridging this gap. Women now play a decisive role in electing a government, or ousting it. This is a much-needed shift in a male-dominated society and polity.