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Friday, Dec 13, 2019

Dear parties, ignore women and urban voters, face NOTA

Three trends among many in the electoral basket stand out because their significances go well beyond this election.

mumbai Updated: Dec 05, 2019 01:16 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
The continued abysmal percentage of women in the political fray is disappointing.
The continued abysmal percentage of women in the political fray is disappointing.(HT File)

Now that Maharashtra finally has a government, it’s worthwhile revisiting the election result to pick out a few trends that were lost in the din over government formation. Three trends among many in the electoral basket stand out because their significances go well beyond this election.

One, the continued abysmal percentage of women in the political fray is disappointing, to put it mildly. Women candidates formed only 7.3% of the total contestants despite the fact that women voters were a healthy 48.1% of the total electorate and women’s turnout was 59.2%, barely three percentage points below men’s. The new Assembly has only 23 women out of 288 members, again a disappointing 7.9%. It’s a tiny improvement over the last few elections, but nowhere as robust as it could have been. Mumbai returned five women MLAs from its 36 seats – nearly 14%.

Clearly, women were active participants in the electoral process; they registered themselves as voters and stepped out to vote almost as enthusiastically as men did. The logjam seems to be in political parties which do not choose their women to be candidates – unless forced by a law that mandates 33% reservation for women. Many of the women who slugged it out in the electoral arena were legacy candidates with a male elder in the party.

Then, the women who contested followed their party line on gender-neutral issues and chose to skip gender-specific ones. The one gender issue that parties paid lip service to was women’s safety when, in fact, it is not a women-only issue; it’s a larger societal one. The trajectory of gender representation in an election may be upward, but it is a painfully slow climb.

Two, with every state and local election it is becoming evident that the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have yielded ground to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena in urban areas. This election result was dismal. That the trend repeated the 2014 result, even worsened in Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), shows that the Congress-NCP did not learn their lessons in the last five to 10 years. It was said that the BJP and Sena appealed largely to urban middle classes, but they have, over the years, spread their footprints into semi-urban and rural areas too.

It’s a mystery why the Congress chose to not reclaim its space in cities and why the NCP chose to not put down its roots in cities. There’s no alternative to building a grassroots network in cities. Of the state’s 288 seats, nearly 105-110 have an urban profile. A party that wishes to dominate state politics cannot ignore urban seats and voters. The BJP and Sena, then in alliance, took 30 of Mumbai’s 36 seats, almost like their tally five years ago. The Congress-NCP had won 19 and 20 seats in two previous elections.

No less than 17 of the 24 seats in MMR – Thane, Raigad and Palghar – went to the BJP or Sena’s tally. Their vote shares are even more telling. The Sena gained seven percentage points over the last election to reach 29% here, while the BJP took four percentage points more than in 2014 to reach 24%. Conversely, the Congress did not win a single seat; its vote share here dropped from 11% five years ago to a shocking 4%. The NCP won only one seat, Mumbra-Kalwa, where Jitendra Awhad admirably held back the saffron surge.

Three, the trend of voters preferring None Of The Above (NOTA) option on the voting machine is rising. Around 3% of Mumbai’s voters chose NOTA — that’s a staggering 113% rise, indicating voters’ disenchantment with candidates of all parties or their response to candidates overlooking their concerns. In Jogeshwari (East), for example, where the controversy over Metro card shed in Aarey raged for months, more than 8% of total votes were NOTA, and was a six-fold rise over the last election. Thane’s seats saw 2.5% of the total votes as NOTA. In Panvel, NOTA votes were third in the tally.

The trend to press NOTA button is a signal to political parties and candidates – the former cannot get away by foisting undesirable or unqualified candidates, the latter cannot disregard voters’ issues any more in preference for larger national ones.

There is a trend in Muslim and Dalit votes, too, especially the role of VBA and AIMIM, but that’s for another day.