In the battle for 2024, there is one key demographic that all parties are aggressively wooing, especially the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP): women. This could be the game changer for the ruling party as it fights for a third term facing anti-incumbency.
Over the decades, the participation of women in elections has increased substantially. The turnout of women in the Lok Sabha polls surged from 53% in 2004 to 67% in 2019 - creating history when they edged past the male voter turnout for the very first time. The Election Commission has predicted that women voters will go up again next year to 69%.
The 2019 election was a landmark also because the gender gap or the difference between the female voter turnout and male voter turnout, not only closed but reversed to 0.17 percentage points in the 2019 Lok Sabha election from 16.71 percent in the 1962 general election, according to the Election Commission of India.
BJP’s election strategy
In states like UP, women voters have made a huge BJP win possible in recent years. The party knows that women could make all the difference in the next poll so the Prime Minister has made reaching out to women a key part of the BJP’s election strategy.
Several welfare schemes of the BJP like the Ujjwala Yojana, Matru Vandana Yojana and the Awaas Yojana are particularly targeted at women.
Over 25 crore women are believed to have benefited from the Jan Dhan scheme alone, under which bank accounts without any mandatory minimum balance are opened. But the party may choose to field more women candidates next time too.
According to a Reuters report, the BJP aims to nominate women candidates for about a third of the 543 seats that will be up for grabs.
Quoting the BJP MLA Vanathi Srinivasan, who is heading the party’s outreach to women, the report says the BJP plans to recruit more than 900 women into positions within its internal staff, seeking to have at least one-third female representation at every level of management. Currently the BJP has only 42 women MPs out of 303.
Women’s Reservation Bill
However, the BJP has done nothing to move on the long pending Women’s Reservation Bill which would reserve 33% of seats for women in parliament and assemblies.
Political parties across the board have been reluctant to push this through despite women plying such a huge role as voters. That is because “winnability” of female candidates is still considered a problem.
Some parties like the Trinamool and Naveen Patnaik’s BJD have made a conscious effort to give more women tickets to contest elections. The data released by the government is disappointing.
Women hold 26 per cent seats in national Parliaments around the world, but the in the current Lok Sabha there are only 15 per cent women MPs. Across India’s state assemblies, 19 state assemblies have less than 10 per cent women lawmakers.
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, wooing women voters has to be much more than just slogans of Beti Bachao. Or cabinet berths.
As the release of Bilkis Bano’s rapists has shown or the way the government has handled the protest by our wrestlers against sexual harassment allegedly at the hands of a ruling party MP, the promise of respecting women has to go beyond platitudes and managing headlines on TV. None of the government’s women ministers has found it fit to speak up on the wrestlers.
This was the same government that sacked a minister facing a series of sexual harassment allegations (MJ Akbar) but clearly, UP MP Brij Bhushan Singh is politically more important.
Empowering women is also about hearing their voices. However that does not appear be the case. We the women are watching.