Bihar Elections: Can Bihar Overturn Dismal History Of Women Representation?

A report by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a citizen-led, non-political NGO which works on electoral and political reforms in India, reveals that out of 8163 candidates who contested elections in Bihar (Parliamentary, State Assembly and/or Legislative Council Elections) between 2006 to 2016, only 610 or 7% were women. The same report discloses that 20% women candidates declared criminal cases & 18% declared serious criminal cases against themselves. With this as the background, this article aims to fragment and understand the status of women representatives in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, 2015 Assembly Elections & 2019 Bye-Elections in Bihar.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections in Bihar, women voter turnout was nearly 59.92% against 55.26% male turnout. During the same elections, only 9% (56) women candidates contested in the elections and out of 40 overall winners, only three were women. Such a drastic gap between the large percentage of women voters and the meagre representation of women legislators, forces us to ponder over the possible reasons for such poor women representation in Bihar. Moreover, all these three women MPs were crorepatis, and had declared criminal and serious criminal cases against themselves. While one MP was 10th Pass, the other two were graduate and post-graduate respectively, at the time of analysis conducted by ADR.

As per a research paper titled – Women Representation in Parliament: A continuing predicament – by Ms Vaishali Rawat (previously a researcher at ADR) – about 75% of the 16th Lok Sabha women MPs had political connections, and only 20.63% women MPs had zilch political-influential connections. It is interesting to note that the three women MPs elected in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections in Bihar are/were wives of Indian politicians. This raises the issue of dynasty politics which is deeply rooted not only in Bihar but also in other parts of India.

During the Bihar Assembly Elections 2015, 8% (273)  women contested in the elections, out of which 15% had criminal and 10% had serious criminal cases against themselves. Out of 28 women MLAs analysed by ADR in the same elections, nine had criminal and five had serious criminal cases against themselves. The only woman who was given a ministerial berth, had an untainted background at the time of analysis and was 12th Pass. Moreover, 2015 Bihar Assembly Elections saw a decline in the number of women MLAs (28) against 2010 Bihar Assembly Elections (34 women MLAs). This decline raises questions regarding the changed mindset of the Bihar electorate.

Talking about the candidates contested in the Bihar Assembly Elections 2015, 24% women candidates were literate which made the majority, followed by 12th Pass & 10th Pass with 18% and 17%, respectively. Out of the 28 women MLAs analysed by ADR in the same elections, around 29% of the women MLAs were 12th Pass which made the majority, followed by 18% 10th Pass women MLAs. 

ADR’s analysis revealed that, out of 273 women candidates, around 88 (32%) were crorepati candidates and out of 28 women MLAs, about 64% were crorepati candidates. Also, it doesn’t come across as a surprise that the only woman who was given the ministerial berth was a crorepati minister, at the time of analysis.

Bihar recently saw bye-elections in 2019 in five constituencies wherein out of 43 candidates, only four (9%) women candidates contested in the elections and no one managed to secure a seat which again reflects the poor women representation in the Bihar Elections.

In an analysis by Economic & Political Weekly released in January 2011, patriarchal structure of Indian politics, no women reservation in Parliament and State Assembly elections, lack of family support, and reluctance in giving tickets to women by the political parties were some of the reasons for poor representation of women in the legislature. 

Political parties claim that “winnability factor” is one of the major reasons for not giving tickets to women. An article in Business Standard puts this myth to rest by revealing that in 2010 Bihar Assembly Elections, 91% of JD (U) and 84% of BJP female contestants had won. The same article also revealed how political realignment in 2015 Bihar Assembly Elections hurt the women’s representation.

In a research paper, Women Legislators and Economic Performance (paper focussing on India’s state legislative assemblies), researchers reveal that:

  • legislators with a criminal record are more likely to practise corruption, to have priorities other than economic development, and, possibly, are less likely to provide a stable business environment
  • male legislators (in the close election sample) are about three times as likely as female legislators to have criminal charges pending against them
  • women legislators in India raise luminosity growth in their constituencies by about 15 percentage points per annum more than male legislators

2020 Bihar Assembly elections will be the first election wherein the Election Commission of India will implement the Supreme Court’s order on listing the reasons for giving tickets to tainted candidates by political parties. With this and the findings mentioned in the paper -Women Legislators and Economic Performance – as the basis, it can be said that there is a huge scope of increasing the representation of women representation. This development could reduce criminality and corruption, and advance the socio-economic condition of Bihar.

It is explicit that women voter turnout is increasing while women representation still remains insignificant in Bihar elections. To ensure better women representation in the upcoming Bihar elections, it is paramount that political parties in Bihar reserve 33% tickets for women, corresponding to West Bengal’s Trinamool Congress and Odisha’s Biju Janata Dal who had fielded 41% and 33% women candidates, respectively, in 2019 Lok Sabha Elections. The responsibility to empower women leaders doesn’t end with reserving seats, it is critical that the reserved tickets should be given to women candidates with no criminal and political-influential background. More importantly, the political parties should assure financial assistance by supporting the political campaigns of the women candidates.

Women in Bihar protested against the increased liquor consumption and it is noteworthy how to garner votes from them ahead of 2015 Bihar Assembly Elections, Mr Nistish Kumar (current Chief Minister of Bihar) promised liquor prohibition. It was the same demand which Mr Kumar had once refused but after winning the 2015 Assembly Elections, he declared Bihar as a dry state and fulfilled his promise which he made to the women of Bihar. With this, it is evident how women can influence policies positively. It is fair to say that women voters in Bihar will be playing a major role in deciding the new government in Bihar.

With the 2020 Bihar Assembly Elections around the corner, it raises some pertinent questions like – will the political parties give tickets to more women candidates and if they do so, will women dynasts be favoured?, will Bihar see a rise in women Ministers and MLAs?, will the current women MLAs retain their respective seat?, and more importantly, will the Bihar electorate vote for women candidates with no criminal background?

The article was originally published on The Logical Indian.

Image Credit: TV9 Gujarati