Maharashtra Polls: Will Women Voters ‘Help’ BJP Return to Power?
The Maharashtra assembly elections are significant from a feminist perspective due to three reasons.
First, this is one of the first assembly elections after the abolition of triple talaq in India. Before its 2014 victory, the BJP had poor support from Muslim voters because of its Hindu majoritarian ideology, the Ram Janmabhoomi issue and its RSS link primarily.
When Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India, many thought the BJP would lose more Muslim support. But the tide seems to have turned as it were, and we can observe a reverse trend due to BJP’s advocacy of the criminalisation of triple talaq, and seeing it to fruition.
In 2017, triple talaq was declared to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The BJP championed the cause of ‘gender justice’ through extensive campaigning for the abolition of instant triple talaq, and used it as a plank it in election battles. This has expanded the BJP’s electoral base by including female Muslim voters.
Can Muslim Voters be Swayed by BJP’s Gender Narrative?
The Maharashtra elections are a test of whether Muslim voters can be swayed by the BJP’s ‘gender justice’ narrative – a narrative by a party which made the Sabarimala temple issue a matter of ‘preservation of traditions’ over gender equality.
Secondly, women continue to be severely under-represented in legislative bodies. The incumbent BJP-Shiv Sena and opposition, Congress-NCP, have given tickets to only 46 women for the 288-member assembly.
Thus, the overall number of female candidates continue to indicate the unequal playing field for women in politics. In the Maharashtra elections, the proportion of women amount to a mere 4.6 percent of the total 3,239 candidates in the field. The Congress and NCP have fielded 14 women, and 8 women, respectively.
BJP in Maharashtra: Strong Female Vote Bank, But Few Women Fielded
In 2014, there were 277 women against a total number of 4,119 candidates. Only twenty women won in the assembly elections in 2014.
Third, the BJP has focused on the female electoral base in Maharashtra. “Even our poll-related advertising this past month was driven towards the females voters. We are confident this will also negate the fact Shiv Sena had opposed some of our schemes despite being an ally. The female voter will ensure that the family vote goes to BJP irrespective of the conflict in the male voters’ mind,” said a BJP leader.
“There is huge support for the BJP even as Maharashtra roughly added 45 lakh voters, second after Uttar Pradesh, which added 54 lakh voters. The gap between male and female voters has reduced drastically and we are confident this would drive us to victory,” said a senior party leader from New Delhi. The party functionaries said the one-month-long campaign had concentrated all energies towards targeting the women voters. Several poll rallies were kept in constituencies with high women vote count and female candidates.
Thus, while the BJP has built a strong female electoral base,it has fielded few female candidates. This is the irony of gender politics in India.
(Manjima Misra is a freelance writer who likes to write at the intersection of politics and gender. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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