22 in 1951 to 78 in 2019: How has India fared in electing women?

  • 11 of 26 states sent women to the first Lok Sabha. Uttar Pradesh, the state with the largest share of seats , elected the most: six
Studio/January, 1952, A31A. Election Scenes in Delhi (January, 1952). Village women voters approach a Polling Officer for receiving ballot papers at a rural Polling Station, near Delhi. (Courtesy PHOTO DIVISION) PREMIUM
Studio/January, 1952, A31A. Election Scenes in Delhi (January, 1952). Village women voters approach a Polling Officer for receiving ballot papers at a rural Polling Station, near Delhi. (Courtesy PHOTO DIVISION)
Updated on Oct 27, 2021 10:20 PM IST
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ByAbhishek Jha

Unlike most 19th century pioneers of democracy, where women were given the right to vote and stand for office much later than men, independent India granted women both these rights in its very first national election. Did this give women in India a good start in elections? Has it led to more parity with men in candidate selection? Let the numbers speak:

22 women won the first and second Lok Sabha elections

The Election Commission of India (ECI) publishes women’s performance in Lok Sabha elections in its statistical reports. Its report for the 1951-52 Lok Sabha election does not have these statistics. However, the Lok Sabha website reports that there were 24 women in the first Lok Sabha. Since two of these members are not listed among the winners of the 1951-52 election, they were likely elected in bypolls held later. This tally of 22 winners among a total of 489 in 1951-52 election did not change in the next election, when 22 of 494 winners were women. However, after 1957, the tally of 22 or 4.5% share of women among winners of Lok Sabha election has dropped below that number only once. This was in 1977 when 3.5% winners (19 of 542) were women. However, the next small bump in women’s representation in Lok Sabha happened only after 1998. In the 2019 election In the 2019 election 14% of the winners (78 of 543) were women. Chart 1: Share of women among winners of Lok Sabha election (%)

Where did the first women winners come from?

Overall, only 11 of 26 states at the time sent women to the first Lok Sabha. Uttar Pradesh, the state with the largest share of seats in the Lower House, elected the most number of women: six. Even as a proportion of total winners in the state, the 7% figure in Uttar Pradesh is only lower than the 8% figure in Tranvancore-Cochin and Assam, where one of 12 winners in each state were women. Chart 2: Share of women among winners by state (%)

Among different parties, only four of the 22 parties that won a seat in the first election had any women winners: 17 of the 22 women winners were from the Congress, which won 364 of the 489 seats. Although politicians or activists in their own right, at least three of them were related to some of the biggest politicians of the time. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was Jawaharlal Nehru’s sister, Uma Nehru was married to a cousin of Jawaharlal Nehru, and Kumari Maniben Vallabhbhai Patel was the daughter of Vallabhbhai Patel.

Apart from the Congress, the Communist Party of India (CPI), Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party (KMPP), and Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha (HMS), which won 16, nine, and four seats, had one women winner each. These three winners were also related to prominent figures if not overt politicians. Sucheta Kripalani of the KMPP, wife of its founder J B Kripalani, would later become the first woman chief minister of India. Two of 38 independent winners were also women. These were Annie Mascarene, a member of the Constituent Assembly of India, and Kamlendu Mati Shah, born of and married into a royal family.

Do women have a better chance in electoral politics now?

Since ECI has not given a gender breakup of the first Lok Sabha election, we can only look at women’s winnability in Lok Sabha elections from the 1957 Lok Sabha election. As an earlier HT story pointed out, women’s strike rate — the percentage of women candidates who win — has always been higher than men. This is because women are given tickets only if they have a chance to win. In the 1957 election, for instance, 22 of 44 women candidates were elected compared to 472 of 1,474 men.

A better metric for analysing how women are perceived in electoral politics by male politicians is the share of women among candidates. Only 3% of candidates in 1957 were women. This share did not increase to 4% until 1991-92. In 2019, at its highest (so far) it was only 9%. Chart 3: Share of women among candidates (%)

What does the increased representation of women in the Lok Sabha mean then? It is true, as the first chart shows, that there has been a bump in women’s representation in the Lok Sabha after 1998. However, this is likely due to the entry of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as another party — apart from the Congress — with a national foot print.

Candidates of such parties have a better chance of getting elected in national elections and that’s why women candidates from these parties are also more likely to get elected. Among parties contesting 50 or more seats, the strike rate of the Congress was the highest in every election before 1977. From the 1977 election onward, the biggest strike rate among parties contesting at least 50 seats has been of those parties that either challenged the Congress victory at the national level — such as the Bharatiya Lok Dal, the Janata Dal, or the BJP from 1998 — or of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which contested most of its seats in West Bengal and Kerala. That being part of a national party helps women in getting elected was evident in the 1957 election, too: 19 of 27 women candidates from the Congress won, compared to 3 of 18 from independent candidates and other parties.

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Saturday, November 27, 2021