Number theory: How women performed in the recent North-East polls?
Historical data shows the extent of exclusion of women in these three states. In Meghalaya and Tripura, women account for only 5% of all candidates who have contested since the early 1960s. Of the 2508 individuals who ever contested a state election in Nagaland since 1964, only 24 were women.
The three North-East elections have produced mixed results with regards to women’s representation. On the one hand, history has been made in the state of Nagaland, as Hekani Jakhalu and Salhoutuono Kruse, both NDPP candidates, are the first two women elected to the state assembly since its creation in 1963. Women also make 15% of the new assembly in Tripura, crossing the 10% threshold for the first time. The larger picture however shows that the situation of women’s representation has hardly improved. Only 7%, 13% and 4% of the candidates fielded by major parties in Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland respectively, were women.This is not a new phenomenon. Historical data shows the extent of exclusion of women in these three states. In Meghalaya and Tripura, women account for only 5% of all candidates who have contested since the early 1960s. Of the 2508 individuals who ever contested a state election in Nagaland since 1964, only 24 were women.The first woman elected in the Meghalaya state assembly was Miriam D. Shira, in 1978. Two of the three women elected this time are career politicians. Dr. Mazel Ampareen Lyngdoh from East Shillong won for the fourth time. She started her political career by contesting on a UDP ticket in 2008 and has won every election since. She is the daughter of a former MP and Speaker of the Meghalaya assembly. Her brother, Robert Garnett Lyngdoh, was a MLA who also served as the Home Minister in the Government of Meghalaya. Miani D. Shira from Ampati is one of the five candidates elected on a Trinamool ticket. She is the daughter of ex-chief minister Mukul Sangma, a Congress veteran who recently shifted allegiance. The third woman elected in the new assembly is Santa Mary Shylla (NPP) from Sutnga Saipung. She is a first-time contestant and is also the first woman to ever be elected in Jaintia Hills.
First-time contestants, but not necessarily political novicesThe first woman to get elected in the Tripura assembly was CPM leader Gouri Bhattacharjee, from Barjala, in 1977. She went on to win a second term in 1983 but lost her seat in 1988. Until this year, women's representation has remained extremely low. Nine women have now been elected, six of them, first-time contestants. This does not mean that they are necessarily political novices. The new Mandaibazar MLA, Swapna Debbarma, has been associated with IPFT since 1999. This is the first time she was given the opportunity to run, on a Tipra Motha Party ticket. She belongs to the same community as TMP leader Pradyot Debbarma. In Kamalasagar, successful BJP candidate Antara Sarkar Deb was a Sabhadhipati Councillor at the Paschim Tripura Zilla Parishad. Other first-time MLAs Mina Rani Sarkar (BJP), from Badharghat, Swapna Majumder (BJP) from Rajnagar, Nandita Debbarma (TMP) from Raima Valley, and Swapna Das Paul (BJP) from Surma. Seven of the nine women elected won on a BJP ticket. Santana Chakma in Pencharthal and Kalyani Roy in Teliamura were both re-running incumbents. Chakma is also an incumbent minister, holding in the previous government the social welfare and social education and animal resource development portfolios. (Note: Major parties include INC, NDPP, BJP, NPF)
In Tripura, a woman who was in the running for CM; in Nagaland, a 60-year streak snapped
Another seasoned politician in Tripura is Pratima Bhoumik, who won from Dhanpur. A current MP, she has the distinction of being the first Manipuri woman (and only the second woman from the North-East) to serve in the Union Cabinet, as minister of state for social justice and empowerment. She was a contender for the chief minister's position, which would have been a first in the North-East.
Nagaland, as we noted earlier, broke a nearly 60-year trend by electing the first two women in its assembly. Hekani Jakhalu (NDPP), is a businesswoman who studied in the United States, worked with a law firm in Delhi and chose to move back to Nagaland to start an organisation - Youth Net - dedicated to generating employment in Nagaland. She is a recipient of the Nari Shakti Purashkar, and won from Dimapur-III. In Western Agami, Salhoutuonuo Kruse worked in the field of women empowerment. She has served as president and subsequently adviser of the Angami Women Organisation. Her late husband Kevisekho Kruse contested and lost in that seat in 2018.
Rays of hope: Women elected in 3 states buck stereotype of proxy or gap-filler candidates
If the state of women representation in these three states remains bleak, there are however a few rays of hope.
The few women who made it to these three assemblies defy the stereotypes of gap-filler candidates or proxy candidates that too often stick to women contestants. The fact that the two women elected for the first time in Nagaland have a record of engagement in the field of women empowerment is encouraging and can provide positive examples to other aspiring politicians.
That being said, patriarchy remains a major obstacle to women's inclusion in politics. Parties seek to mobilise women as voters but stop short of their promises when it comes to representation and political empowerment. In Tripura, the situation would have remained the same, hadn't been for the BJP's effort to include more women among its candidates.
Gilles Verniers, Poulomi Ghosh and Srishti Gupta are Director, Research Fellow, and Research Engineer, respectively, at the Trivedi Centre for Political Data. Views are personal.