Women are in focus in Madhya Pradesh polls like never before. Ruling BJP and opposition Congress have made sustained efforts to woo the 2.72 crore women voters in run up to the crucial assembly polls slated for November 17; but when it came to giving actual representation for women, the major parties did hardly better than past years.
BJP gave tickets to 27 women candidates out of 230 this time – a paltry 11.7 per cent, while Congress did a shade better with 30 (13 pc) candidates of the fairer gender.
But what is more attention-worthy is the fact that during the past three decades both these parties never gave any tickets to women candidates on as many as 96 seats, a close look at the candidature statistics from 1990 to 2023 shows.
This time, women candidates have been pitted for the first time in five constituencies (Ujjain North, Jatara and Nagod by Congress, Parasia and Sidhi by BJP). This means that before this election, over 100 seats out of 230 in MP never saw a BJP or Congress women candidate in fray.
Representation of women in MP assembly polls has always been poor, but this time the situation comes across as more starkly in contrast because women voters are being wooed like never before.
Shivraj Singh Chouhan led BJP government came out with its ambitious ‘Laadli Behna’ scheme of monthly cash assistance to women months ahead of the polls and soon after the opposition Congress started talking about making such provisions. Following this, there has been more or less competition between the two parties of announcing/promising sops for women including subsidised domestic gas cylinders, housing, free education, additional facilities for girl students and so on.
The BJP-led government at the centre even went ahead to get the long-pending women’s reservation bill cleared from both houses of the Parliament, though the provisions will come into effect only later.
Focus on women voters makes sense for the political parties, especially the BJP in MP as the fair gender is known to have supported Chouhan during the past several years because of schemes like ‘Laadli Laxmi’ (support to girl children) and ‘Kanyadan’ (marriage assistance). Chouhan’s electoral success and his branding as ‘mama’ (maternal uncle) has been attributed to the strong support of women voters whose polling percentage is increasing every election.
It is expected that women voters would vote neck and neck with male counterparts in the upcoming polls. While the male voters might be divided on the lines of caste, religion or political affiliations, women voters in the state are known to vote in a consolidated manner. Therefore, wooing this chunk of voters who may sway the polls has been a priority for both the parties.
But unfortunately, this importance of the women voters has not been translated into more direct action in favour of the women by the major political parties. The percentage of women candidates fielded by them continues to remain between 10 and 13 per cent during the past four polls. Also, the number of women MLAs actually elected to the assembly continues to be dismal.
The best show in the past two decades was in 2013, when 31 women MLAs were elected, but the number went down to 21 in 2018 polls, falling below the 10 per cent mark.
This time, 252 women candidates are in fray – just 10 per cent of the total 2,532 candidates contesting the polls on 230 seats. The total BJP and Congress candidates are 57 and how many of them manage to win the polls remains to be seen.
In their defence, both BJP and Congress maintain that the primary consideration for selection of candidates is winnability and gender, other criterion often takes back seat in the process. However, political watchers point out that due to the quota at local bodies’ level, women leadership has developed over the past few decades, but as soon as parties get a chance to give tickets without gender quota, women take a backseat. Even among those who get the tickets many are related either to some influential political leaders or families. Whether this situation changes after the women’s reservation law gets practically implemented is anyone’s guess.
Total voters in MP: 5,60,58,521
Women voters in MP: 2,71,99,586
Total candidates in fray: 2532
Women candidates in fray: 252
Congress women candidates: 30
BJP women candidates: 27
Congress women candidates: 28
BJP women candidates: 24
Total women MLAs elected: 21
Congress women candidates: 23
BJP women candidates: 28
Total women MLAs elected: 31
Congress women candidates: 29
BJP women candidates: 24
Total women MLAs elected: 25
Congress women candidates: 32
BJP women candidates: 18
Total women MLAs elected: 18