Women No Longer ‘Silent Voters’, in Driver’s Seat to Swing Results
Results across four key states show that women are emerging as a vote bank that can change a party’s fortune.
A total of 5,68,580 more women voted than men in the 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections – recording the widest increase in the gap in the history of the state.
In 2016, 3.7 lakh more women had voted than men – credited for giving late AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa a massive mandate, helping her return to power for the second consecutive term in Tamil Nadu.
It is this vote – the women's vote – owing to the still-lasting popularity of Jayalalithaa and women-focused welfare policies – that ensured that the AIADMK did not face a complete washout in the 2021 polls, as predicted by the exit polls.
Women voters have spoken and not just in Tamil Nadu. Results across four key states in India show that the group is no longer 'silent' and is emerging as an independent vote bank.
“Women voters have arrived and they will make and break the electoral fortune of any leader of a political party,” CVoter founder and psephologist Yashwant Deshmukh told IANS, following the results.
'Bengal's Daughter' Backed By Its Daughters
In West Bengal, women voted in large numbers for Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee – ensuring that India's only woman chief minister stayed in power. This is not new for the party, as women are considered its biggest vote bank – making sure welfare policies are inclusive, often women-focused.
Banerjee's government implemented over 200 women-centric schemes with 'Kanyashree' and 'Rupashree' – which grants funds for both marriage and education – being the most popular. Her government also started the 'Sabooj Sathi' – which provides bicycles for girl students and also gives them the access to education loans.
In the 2021 manifesto, too, the TMC made promises centred around women, like delivery of ration to the doorstep and a monthly stipend for all women heads of families.
In return, a majority of Bengal’s 3.7 crore women voters – constituting 49 percent of the electorate – chose Didi.
In Assam, too, women are likely to have chosen the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for welfare schemes. Speaking to India Today TV after the party's victory, BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma made special mention of the women voters.
“I was confident that women will vote for us heavily, irrespective of their caste, creed, and religion. Women as a class have voted in favour of the BJP in this election because of our government’s policies of empowerment.”Himanta Biswa Sarma
What Women Voters Want
CVoter's Deshmukh, speaking to IANS, contended that governance is the most important poll issue for the women voters and they are the least bothered by “other political agenda of any political parties.”
“Polarisation in the name of religion or caste does not affect the decision of women voters. They only vote for governance and development and it is visible in recent polls in the last few years,” he added.
Pradeep Gupta, who heads Axis MyIndia, another psephology outfit, told The Hindu that while women are not a homogeneous category, welfare schemes aimed at them work better in political mobilisation.
This was visible in the 2020 Bihar Assembly elections – when as 'silent voters' women may have helped Nitish Kumar return to power. From free cycles to scholarships for girl students, reservation for women in government jobs and not to mention prohibition measures – Kumar is said to have nurtured his vote bank.
But Where Are Women MLAs?
A Lokniti-CSDS survey, based on the voting pattern in 2014, found that female politicians are better at mobilising women electors – which will put political parties at an advantageous position.
While women are putting political parties in power – the latter are still more-than-hesitant to nominate women as candidates.
In Assam, the share of women MLAs will be 5 percent with just six MLAs elected. In Kerala, there will be only 11 women MLAS – just one of them in the Opposition. Of the 30 MLAs in Puducherry, only one is a woman; in Tamil Nadu, barely 5 percent – 12 out of 234 MLAs are women.
“Presence of one strong political leader does not mean Tamil Nadu politics is inclusive for women. It may not seem outlandish to voters to see women take part in politics, but they have not gotten used to it. A significant number of female politicians is needed to bring about that change,” Tara Krishnaswamy, who leads NGO Shakti, which aims to embolden women’s representation in politics, told The Indian Express.
The best performer among the states is West Bengal – which has 14 percent of the elected representatives as women. A total of 40 women MLAs – most of them from the TMC.
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