Home / Opinion / Assembly elections: The ‘other sex’ makes a difference

In contrast to the traditionally held and popular image of the weaker sex remaining confined to the private domain, and the public, especially political decisions being made by the dominant male and casteist social structures, women are increasingly coming to the centre stage in electoral decision-making. Images of women in ghoonghat, and the khap panchayats ordering the “unmaking" of same-gotra marriages go a long way in reinforcing this perception of the inability of women to exercise their agency in voting decision-making. These long-held beliefs stand amended and indeed challenged in the elections to the Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan assemblies. While the proportionate share of women in the electorate in each of these states has increased over the years, the story is not simply about the numbers.

In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, women were an active part of deciding whether the welfare transfers were working or not, and whether on these claims the incumbent governments were to be brought back. In Madhya Pradesh, schemes such as the Laadli Lakshmi and the Mukhya-Mantri Cycle Yojana were targeted specifically at young girls. And Shivraj Singh Chouhan never forgot to remind women gathered in his rallies in large numbers of his being a ‘mama’ (maternal uncle) to them. While the strength of the appeal was nowhere near in Chhattisgarh, yet the public distribution system took women to be the head of the household, and its effective implementation was a household risk stabilization measure in a state where nearly 40% of the population is close to the poverty line. Eminent scholars such as Jean Drèze have noted the efficacy of the scheme, and seen this to be a way of income stabilization of the poor—easing somewhat the burden of running a household in conditions of extreme poverty. A top-up of this system of grain delivery with pulses and nutrients has increased its appeal. Besides, there were other schemes specifically targeted towards young girls such as free computer tablets for college-going girls and tailoring machines—both seen as skill enhancing or skill supporting machines and not simply meaningless doles such as free saris.

But the far clearer evidence of the role of punching the electronic voting machines with a decision of their choice comes from Delhi. While voter turnout has been high, the assumption is that a large turnout has been possible only because women and the youth turned out in large numbers to vote the Congress out of power. The rise of the Aam Aadmi Party—a party representing protest, and espousing more open and transparent politics—was certainly premised on and facilitated by the other sex deciding to take the jhaadu, i.e., the broomstick in its own hands. While there were other factors at work against the ruling Congress—such as anti-incumbency against the central government, and third time for the state government—the silent yet critical issue stirring women across the city was the gang-rape and murder of a student in December last year. That tragic incident goaded women to wield the broomstick, and turn up in large numbers. In the privacy of the electronic voting machines, it was the decision of the hitherto weaker sex and the novice young voters which represented a silent yet tectonic shift.

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