No ticket, only sops: women still fall behind in the electoral sweepstakes

Political parties are raining poll sops for women, a key voting bloc who can swing polls; however, they have no faith in their winnability as candidates, especially as women voters do not support women candidates

November 18, 2023 09:13 pm | Updated December 01, 2023 11:55 am IST - NEW DELHI

Women voters stand in queue outside a polling booth.

Women voters stand in queue outside a polling booth. | Photo Credit: M A Sriram

Cash assistance, subsidised LPG cylinders, free education from kindergarten to postgraduation, and free rides on urban public transport — it is election season in five States and political parties are bending over backwards to woo women voters with a slew of promises. Coupled with the historic passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Special Session of Parliament in September, it would seem that women have arrived electorally in the country.

That is not the whole story, however, as a closer look at poll statistics reveals. While most political parties recognise the emergence of women as a voting bloc who can swing elections, offering them polls sops, a similar commitment seems to be lacking when it comes to giving tickets to women candidates.

Growing turnout

Analysts feel that the reason for increasing poll promises for women is the increasing voter turnout of women over the years.

The current set of poll-bound States provide an example of this phenomenon. In Rajasthan, the voting percentage of women has grown from 41% in 1962 to 74% in 2018; in Madhya Pradesh, it has grown even more sharply, from 29% to 78%. While in united Andhra Pradesh, 59% of women came out to vote in 1962, in Telangana in 2018, the figure was 73%. In Chattisgarh, where the first Assembly elections were held in 2003, the women’s voting percentage has increased from 67% in that first poll to 76% in 2018.

“It is after the 2009 elections that the women voters have become significant. The voter turnout of women has matched that of men,” says Tara Krishnaswamy, co-founder of Political Shakti, an NGO working on gender equality in politics.

Swing voters

While in some States, the gap has closed, in many other States the voting percentage of women has actually exceeded that of men; political parties now realise that by wooing women voters, they can actually swing the vote.

According to Ms. Krishnaswamy, the first politicians to cash in and benefit from this were West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Professor Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for Developing Societies agrees. “They are perfect examples. In Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party did get a proportionately higher vote from women, as also is the case with the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar.”

On the question of whether women can actually swing the vote, he says that unlike Dalits, women are yet to emerge as a distinct voting bloc for any particular party. What has started is a tilt towards particular parties by women voters, which can swing 2% to 3% votes in their favour, critical in a tight election.

Few tickets for women

The expected swing vote and the resultant poll sops being offered to women, however, does not translate into tickets for women candidates by most parties. In the current Assembly polls for example, most political parties have given merely 10% to 15% of tickets to women candidates.

Take a look at the two major national parties. In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress has fielded only 30 women in the 230 Assembly constituencies, while the BJP has fielded 27. In Chhattisgarh, the Congress has given 18 out of 90 seats to women, while the BJP offered tickets to 15 women. The numbers for Rajasthan are 27 women out of total 199 seats for Congress, and 19 out of 200 for the BJP. In Telangana, out of 119 Assembly seats, the Congress has chosen 12 women candidates, the BJP has fielded 15 women, and the Bharat Rashtra Samithi has just eight women candidates.

Low winnability

This is a far cry from the position of near gender equality when it comes to equal participation in voting, as well as from the 33% reservation promised for women by the Union government in its new law.

The low number of tickets for women candidates seems to stem from a strong belief that their winnability is also low, especially if the opposing party puts up a male candidate for the same seat.

Data also shows that, so far, women themselves are not hugely inclined to vote for another woman. Thus, higher voter participation is not a reason to give more tickets to women.

Impact of male migration

Political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay says that there is a need to look at the increasing women voters’ participation through the prism of economic conditions rather than the empowerment debate. “It is true that in a large number of constituencies, you have more women voters than men. This is a symptom of the terrible state of the Indian economy. Men continue to be primary breadwinners. They work in bigger cities and the family stays back home. This has particularly increased in the last five years,” he says.

“Post-COVID, there are a large number of women who returned home, but have not gone back to work to the cities,” he adds. Thus, it is not so much that there is a dramatic rise in the number of women voters, but rather the lack of men who can vote in their homes.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.