With the Women’s Reservation Bill being passed in Parliament last year, the debate on whether quota within political parties or in Parliament and State Assemblies may be the best route for increasing women’s representation in politics seems to have come to an end. The Assembly elections in Rajasthan showed that the only way for increasing women’s political participation seems to be to provide them reservation in Parliament and State Assemblies. In the elections, the women candidates of both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) put up dismal performances.
The case of Rajasthan
In the Rajasthan Assembly elections, everyone highlighted and criticised the ticket distribution to women by all political parties. But how did the women who contested perform? Rajasthan has 200 Assembly seats but polling was held in 199 seats following the death of Congress candidate Gurmeet Singh Kooner. The BJP fielded 20 women candidates of which nine managed to enter the Assembly. The success rate of women candidates of the BJP remained 45%, which was much lower than the success rate of the party’s male candidates — 60% (106 male candidates won out of the 179 who contested).
The picture with regard to the Congress’s candidates was not very different. Of the total 28 women candidates of the Congress, nine got elected to the Rajasthan Assembly (32%). The absolute number of women who were elected to the Rajasthan Assembly was the same for the BJP and the Congress, though in percentage terms, the success rate was higher for the women candidates of the BJP compared to those of the Congress.
It is important to note that in the current Rajasthan Assembly, the total number of women MLAs is 20 (nine each from the Congress and the BJP and two independents). This is four fewer than the number in the outgoing Assembly. It is surprising that the political parties were not enthusiastic about giving ticket to more women candidates. The voters, too, did not seem keen on electing women candidates, either from the BJP or from Congress, even after the Women’s Reservation Bill was passed with so much fanfare. Not giving more women ticket to contest elections clearly shows that parties are not enthusiastic about fielding women candidates. And the votes polled by the women candidates, irrespective of the parties they belong to, also indicates the voters’ low enthusiasm for voting for women candidates.
There were seven Assembly constituencies where the women candidates of the Congress and the BJP were pitched against each other. Since these two parties were in serious contest, one would have expected the voters to choose one of these two women candidates. Of the seven Assembly seats, the BJP and Congress won three each, while the Sadulpur seat was won by the Bahujan Samaj Party. It is important to note that in these seven Assembly constituencies, the BJP polled 34% of the votes compared to its overall 42% vote share, though the Congress polled almost similar votes in these constituencies as well in the whole of Rajasthan. This shows that voters seem to prefer male candidates to female candidates. In the Sadulpur Assembly seat, the BSP candidate, Manoj Kumar, polled 32.9% of the votes, the Congress candidate, Krishna Poonia, polled 31.6%, and the BJP candidate, Sumitra Poonia, polled 30.1%. All this to some extent explains why political parties may be reluctant to give tickets to women candidates and why mandatory quota within the party may not be the way forward for increasing women’s representation in politics.
Let’s look at some other trends. There were 13 Assembly constituencies where the Congress fielded male candidates against the BJP’s female candidates. Of these, the BJP won six seats while the Congress won seven. It is important to note that the Congress’s performance was much better when it fielded male candidates against the BJP’s women candidates, despite the overall mood of the voters being in favour of the BJP.
Similarly, the BJP fielded male candidates against the female candidates of the Congress in 21 Assembly constituencies. Of these, the male candidates of the BJP won in 15 Assembly seats and the female candidates of the Congress won in only six. Female candidates of both parties had a relatively low strike rate if they had to face male candidates of the other party. This also proves the existence of a vote bloc which wants to see a man as their representative. This is why there is lack of winnability of women candidates. And this forces parties to think twice before giving tickets to women candidates, especially in a closely fought battle.
No contagion effect
Distributing more tickets to women in the first-past-the-post system may not necessarily lead to more representation of women in legislature. There is hope of a contagion effect, but this has not happened. The Trinamool Congress gave ticket to 46 women candidates in the 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections of which 32 candidates won. But the total number of women MLAs did not increase in the Assembly. Instead, it declined from 41 women MLAs in 2016 to 40 in 2021.
Similarly, the Congress awarded 40% of tickets to women candidates in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, but this did not lead to a higher representation of women in the Assembly. In the first-past-the-post system, if one party provides a gender quota, it does not incentivise other parties to follow suit.
Vipul Anekant is Deputy Commissioner of Police with Delhi Police. Views are personal and not that of the government.
Sanjay Kumar is a Professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Views are personal