‘Given the extra costs for women in elections, the high number is significant’

While women remain under-represented in elections, an interesting new dimension has emerged from the first analysis of 50 years of Assembly election data. India’s backward States systematically put up more female candidates than the developed southern States. Yet, female candidates in developed States are more likely to win.

Mudit Kapoor and Shamika Ravi, assistant professors at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, analysed candidates who contested elections in 16 large States between 1961 and 2012. They found that backward States like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh had twice the number of female candidates standing for election per constituency than in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. These trends remained consistent over the 50-year period.

Less developed States have more candidates contesting per constituency, regardless of sex. However, given that there are extra costs for women associated with standing for elections, the higher number of female candidates contesting is significant, Mr. Kapoor told The Hindu.

Their numbers show that at the aggregate level, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have had the highest number of women contesting elections nearly every decade over the last 50 years. At the average constituency-level too, the ‘BIMARU’ States — Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh — along with Haryana outshine the developed southern States. However, women are less likely to win elections from these States.

Comparing constituency-level sex ratios with the number of women who contest, they found that constituencies with the most adverse sex ratios were the ones that women were most likely to contest from. Their theoretical model, borne out by the empirical data, was that women were more likely to stand for election when the issues that mattered to them were only likely to get addressed if they themselves contested.

Shaibal Gupta, founder member-secretary of the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute and member of the recent Raghuram Rajan-headed committee on backwardness, disagrees with this explanation of the phenomenon. “Many of the rich Western countries, like the United States and to a lesser extent the United Kingdom, have very few women in politics. On the other hand, south Asian and East Asian countries have more women in politics and as heads of state,” Mr. Gupta pointed out. “My theory is that as the capitalist transformation progresses and more wealth is created, men don’t want to part with power. They keep a commensurate hold over leadership,” he said.

Overall, though, the number of female candidates remains very low at a rough average of 10 per cent the number of male candidates across States. “This is a battle where we have a long way to go, in all States,” BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said.

“While some women have been coming up, there are still too few in politics. This is why we need to bring in the women’s reservation bill,” Congress MP and Union Minister Girija Vyas said.

Men and women at the hustings (decadal data):

state 1960s female 1960s male 1970s female 1970s male 1980s female 1980s male 1990s female 1990s male 2000s female 2000s male 2010s female 2010s male
Bihar 40 1863 49 2440 90 3530 207 7313 114 2976 307 3216
Uttar Pradesh 64 3160 78 3448 151 5427 223 7108 357 5449 599 6432
Tamil Nadu 767 12 1057 43 1815 123 3618 134 2089 144 2604
Kerala 9 482 6 532 21 830 41 965 70 861 83 888
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