In all the elections held in Kerala, women have for outnumbered men in the State’s electoral rolls, but their share in the electoral sweepstakes has been miniscule in both Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
Only seven women have made it to Parliament from the State over the past 65 years, including Annie Mascarene, who fought and won as an Independent candidate from Thiruvananthapuram in 1951, half a decade before Kerala came into being. The Congress has so far sent just one woman to Parliament since the State’s formation, Savithri Lakshmanan from the now-extinct Mukundapuram constituency in 1989 and 1991. The remaining five were sent to Parliament by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] and the Communist Party of India (CPI).
Annie Mascarene contested as an Independent candidate and instantly became a giant killer defeating Paravoor T.K Narayana Pillai of the Socialist Party by a whopping margin of 68,117 votes. The veteran could garner only a mere 48,500 votes against her 1,16,617 votes. However, in 1957, the tide turned against her. The lone woman candidate in the fray in that election, she ended up being fourth with a measly 18,741 votes, virtually marking the end of her public life, which was a saga of determined battle against male domination in Travancore’s political scene.
Women in the State had to wait for a decade to get their next representative to Parliament. That happened when Suseela Gopalan of the CPI(M) defeated P.S. Karthikeyan of the Congress by a margin of 50,297 votes in the 1967 Lok Sabha elections in Ambalappuzha. In 1971, when the two the Communist parties took on each other, K. Bhargavi (later Bhargavi Thankappan) of the CPI came up victorious over P.K. Kunjachan of the CPI(M) in Adoor (SC) by a margin of 1,08,897 votes. Since the CPI and the Congress were in the same alliance, it could be said that the Congress also had a role in sending Ms. Bhargavi to Parliament.
In 1980, Suseela Gopalan moved over to Alappuzha (then Alleppey) to defeat Omana Pillai (the man who is remembered by old timers for the campaign he had led for the coastal railway line that now passes through his home town) by 1,14,764 votes. She moved southward to Chirayinkeezhu (Chirayinkil then) to defeat Thalekkunnil Basheer by a slender 1,106 votes margin.
This was the election in which Ms. Lakshmanan booked her seat to Parliament from Mukundapuram defeating C.O. Poulose of the CPI(M) by 18,754 votes. She retained the seat in 1991, defeating A.P. Kurian by 12, 365 votes.
In 1998, A.K. Premajam of the CPI(M) reached Parliament from Vadakara (then Badagara), defeating P.M. Suresh Babu of the Congress by 59,161 votes. She fought against the same main rival in the same constituency in 1999 and returned to Parliament, though with a reduced victory margin of 25,844 votes. In 2004, her party colleague P. Sathi Devi marched to the victory podium defeating M.T. Padma of the Congress by 1,30,589 votes, which is still the third highest margin of victory in the State’s electoral history. In the same elections, C.S. Sujatha of the CPI(M) defeated Ramesh Chennithala of the Congress in Mavelikara by a low margin of 7,414 votes.
The total number of candidates fielded by various parties in successive elections too has been low. In 1951, when Kerala voted as Travancore-Cochin and Madras, there was only a single woman candidate in a fray of 47 contestants. The number of women candidates remained in the single digit as late as 1989—one out of 58 in 1957, one out of 50 in 1962, three out of 61 in 1967, four out of 67 in 1971, three out of 63 in 1977, two out of 93 in 1980, nine out of 151 in 1984 and eight out of 218 in 1989. There were 10 women candidates out of 179 in 1991, 10 out of 232 in 1996 and 10 out of 120 in 1998. There were 13 women in the fray in 1999, 15 out of 177 in 2004 and 15 out of 217 in 2009.
In the current round of national elections, major political formations have fielded women candidates in many constituencies, some of the more noteworthy among them being P.K. Sreemathy and P.K. Sainaba of the CPI(M) in Kannur and Malappuram respectively, Bindu Krishna and K.A. Sheeba of the Congress in Attingal and Alathur (SC) respectively, Shobha Surendran and Girija Kumari of the BJP in Palakkad and Attingal respectively and Anita Pratap and Sara Joseph of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Ernakulam and Thrissur respectively.