Fewer women MLAs find place in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh assemblies this time
A fewer number of women will join the newly elected assemblies of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, as poll results indicate a dip in female representation since 2013. This is because of a poor distribution of tickets by the main parties, as well as a false notion that women make weaker candidates. For a country that ranks 149th among 205 nations in terms of women’s representation in its national assembly, this does not augur well. Women make up for less than 8% of the legislators across all state assemblies.
In comparison to the 2013 state elections, the November-December state polls do not show an improvement. Across five states, 685 women contested (not inclusive of kinnar, or transwomen candidates), although only a third — 219 — did so from main parties. At the end, only 63 won or roughly 9% of the 678 newly elected legislators. Two states that have been, in recent times, above the national average — Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (14% and 13% in the previous assemblies, respectively) — saw a decrease of women’s representation in the assembly. There is small progress in Chhattisgarh. Women were almost absent from the contest in Telangana, with only 38 tickets distributed to women among the main parties.
Political representation of women
In Rajasthan, 179 women contested the 2018 polls, 71 on a main party ticket (Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party or Aam Aadmi Party). Twenty-three were elected, nearly all from Congress or BJP. Over time, the share of women among the candidates has increased marginally from 2% of the tickets in 1990 to 8% in 2018.
The progression in the number of women MLAs does not depend solely on their presence as candidates, but also on the number of tickets given by major parties. Starting in 2008, the BJP and the Congress started distributing slightly more tickets to women, which led to a rise of women’s representation in 2008 and 2013. In 2018, the BJP distributed 23 tickets to women — three fewer than it did in 2013, while the Congress, with 25 tickets, gave one more than it did in the previous election.
In Madhya Pradesh, the 2018 election marked a departure from a long-term upward trend in women’s representation. There are 10 fewer women in the assembly compared to five years ago (30 in the previous assembly). This time around, 10 women won on a BJP ticket, 9 on a Congress ticket. One of the two BSP MLAs is Rambai Govind Singh, in Pathariya.
Carole Spary’s work on women’s representation in national politics in India (Performing Representation: Women Members in the Indian Parliament) reveals that in the face of competition, parties are reluctant to distribute many tickets to women deemed to be ‘weak’ or ‘weaker’ candidates. Sensing a tough election ahead, the BJP cut the number of tickets given to women candidates, from 22 in 2013 to 10 in 2018, in Madhya Pradesh. The Congress fared no better, giving nine tickets to women against the six it gave five years earlier. The combination of poor distribution and poor performance of the BJP explains the dip in women’s representation.
The data for Chhattisgarh seem to indicate a gradual increase in both, women candidature and representation. Given the small size of the assembly (90 seats), we are really talking about more women fielded and elected in each election. Generally speaking, one should be cautious handling representation statistics when the numbers are so small. Consequently, women’s representation in Chhattisgarh is actually quite stable.
Despite a substantial increase in the number of women candidates, voters in Mizoram still tend to reject women contestants, as is the case in most of the Northeast.
Barely a handful of women candidates (6) made it to the three assemblies that went to the polls in the region in 2017. In Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya, not only do parties discriminate against women candidates, but voters also contribute to the marginalization of women by giving them lower vote shares.
Overall, the situation is not bright. If political parties’ reaction to increased competitiveness is to reduce the already small space left for women politicians, this does not augur well for the 2019 national elections.
Parties are guided by false notions that women make weaker candidates; an analysis of their relative vote share and strike rate indicate that it is not the case and even often quite the contrary. The marginalisation of women in elected assemblies comes as a contradiction to the greater involvement of women in elections — as voters, or as part of the Panchayat.
The improvement of women’s representation does not depend solely on parties. Like in the neighbouring state of Haryana, the better representation of women has to do in part with the prominence of dynastic politics, which draws a number of women into politics. But their candidature and participation in Panchayats and municipalities puts paid to the notion that political backing alone will help.