Believe it or not, a silent revolution is taking shape in India. After independence, the political opportunism had established ‘values of power’ instead of ‘power of values’ taking advantage of the social differences. Circumstances are changing now. The electoral history of the last 10 years is witness to the fact that social pressures are now setting the direction of politics.

The return of Arvind Kejriwal in the Delhi assembly election with a thumping majority has sprung from this very tendency. He succeeded in convincing his voters that a welfare state is his topmost priority. During elections, male voters usually become victims of various biases and prejudices. Whatever impact Kejriwal’s claims and promises might have had on them, the fact remains that the women and youth of the capital city voted largely in favour of him. The Election Commission figures reveal that 62.55% of the voters were women. Though it was a little less than the previous Delhi assembly elections, it proved to be decisive.

Why did women remain faithful voters of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)? The answer is very clear. In the capital city, which is teeming with middle-class families, free electricity, water, medical treatment, and education at a subsidized cost have had a considerable impact largely on women. To some, these facilities may look very small and insignificant, but for the common people these very small facilities make their tough life a little smoother.

Not only this, but also the way a heated debate started on the issue of Shaheen Bagh made women apprehensive that if unrest spreads in Delhi, their families might be affected. It is needless to mention here that in the matters of social security, women are far more alert and sensitive and the peaceful agitation at Shaheen Bagh is also being spearheaded by women.

It’s not that this wonder took place only in Delhi. There are plenty of examples to corroborate this, but I will cite the example of Bihar, which is another very significant state of the Hindi belt. The incumbent chief minister Nitish Kumar, too, has won the assembly elections for three consecutive terms in the name of a welfare state that is free of fear and insecurity. I will take you a little further in the past to elaborate upon my point. In the February 2005 assembly elections of Bihar, no political party had got a majority. As a result, elections were held again in October of the same year and this ensured the long tenure of Nitish Kumar as chief minister. In this election, women in more than 35% of the seats had indeed liked the slogan of ‘fear-free’ Bihar.

As soon as he came to power, Kumar reserved 50% of seats for women in panchayats and urban local bodies. In 2007, he distributed bicycles free of cost to school-going girls. Bicycles made girls independent and almost got them wings in Bihar, where it was very difficult for girls to even go to school. The strict implementation of prohibition on alcohol was also a step taken by the government following a strong demand by the women of the state. Kumar had announced that he would take this step in an election rally.

In the jungle of politics, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also benefited from this concern for the facilities for the common man. Narendra Modi has proved to be the most popular among women and youth at the national level. Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Ujjawala Yojana and many such schemes made him win a thumping majority in the Lok Sabha elections of 2019. The BJP may not have been able to win the elections in Delhi, but in the recent survey by a trusted media house of the country, Modi has emerged as the most popular political figure in India. For the last eight years, he has succeeded in retaining his charm at the national level.

As I said earlier, women do not like discriminatory politics. The saffron party had to bear the brunt of the kind of language that was used by some of its senior leaders during the Delhi elections. While AAP remained balanced and positive, the ‘Goli Maro’ statement and Pakistan-related speeches given by BJP leaders did not go down well with the people and they were completely rejected by the women voters of Delhi. Home minister Amit Shah himself has now accepted that voters did not accept this language. Hopefully, we will be free of this kind of distasteful language in the coming elections. This is the latest example of social pressure on politics.

According to the EC, as compared to women, 8.4% more men voted in the 2004 elections. However, in last year’s election, the percentage of women voters crossed the percentage of men voters. It’s important to note here that in the 73 years of independence, the first four decades were completely male-dominated. The other half of the population, which is women, has been rapidly bridging this gap. Women now play a decisive role in forming a government or overthrowing it. This is a pleasant change in Indian society.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekarkahin

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