The history of women’s suffrage in India has added another riddle for social scientists to decipher. Over the past decade, research has largely focused on women’s increased voter registration and higher turnout in polling booths. The combined effect of these two developments has been that in many parts of the country, the electoral weight of women voters is greater than that of men. In addition to this, female voters also made distinct preferences in the choice of vote. Over the past few years, we have seen the positive effect of this behind the re-election of many Chief Ministers Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee, J Jayalalitha, Naveen Patnaik among others.
So what role did female voters play in the BJP’s victory in four states? The data indicates that more women appear to have voted for the BJP than men in the four states the party won; post-survey data from Axis My-India and Lokniti-CSDS confirm this trend. Although the margin of difference is in the order of 2 to 4 percentage points, the importance of this reversal should not be underestimated.
The BJP had a gender disadvantage with women before 2014, but the party managed to close this gap in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In many states too, the party has gained some advantage with women voters – the trend was very visible in the 2020 elections in Bihar and 2021 in Assam.
Consider the more disaggregated data from the post-survey studies mentioned above. The difference between female voters who voted for the BJP and those who voted for the Samajwadi party was in double digits. This means that the SP has been actively placed at a disadvantage with its inability to attract women voters. At the same time, across all major ethnic caste blocs in the UP, women were more likely to vote for the BJP, indicating that female voters may be making different political choices than male members of their constituency. family.
What drives women to vote for the BJP in greater numbers? In our view, the current change is a combination of three factors, and we need more research to understand the complex dynamics at play.
First, the distinct nature of the BJP’s social policies, compared to previous governments. Much has been made of the improved distribution of rations under the current regime, especially during the peak months of the pandemic. However, the nuances of what these diets might do are ignored. The goal of many programs such as those for food security, LPG cylinders, building houses, LED lights and direct cash transfers, among others, is to bring welfare to the doorstep. In providing well-being within the household, the BJP has developed a model that very specifically concerns women, who are most likely to use the goods they provide.
The second reason is the rhetoric around safety and security. Whether the crime statistics attest to it or not, the image of being tough on law and order, particularly centered on women’s safety, seems to have resonated with women. Soft media coverage certainly helped build this perception. At the same time, it should also be remembered that the Yogi regime stayed true to this line from day one, beginning with measures such as the “anti-Romeo” squads, which specifically dealt with the issue of women’s safety. While such measures have rightly been criticized as undermining individual freedoms, the reality of daily life in the heart of the country should not be ignored. These are places where the movement of women outside the home is heavily sanctioned and monitored, often by older women themselves. For them, consistent and tough policing is a welcome move as it provides a semblance of security in a precarious world.
And finally, it’s about the emotional connection with leadership. After all, Akhilesh Yadav insisted on cleaning up SP’s soft on crime image. And Priyanka Gandhi herself has led a highly visible campaign on the board of women’s rights and agency. The results show that women were unimpressed with both. The signal sent to political parties is clear – perception is only noticeable when the intended message is associated with a credible face. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has carefully and consciously cultivated this image over the years be it Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Swachh Bharat, Ujjawala Yojna or his message to parents from the ramparts of the Red Fort among others.
What should non-BJP parties do to increase their presence among women voters? Very simply, learn from leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar, and make concerted efforts to raise awareness among women voters. This would require not only substantial thinking and strategy, but also an overhaul of their party structures and patronage networks, which are heavily male-oriented.
Women voters continue to face various obstacles in the political arena. They are less likely to speak out in community meetings and are significantly less present on social media. This means that it is more difficult to reach them through caste networks and communities. Party workers, especially if they are women, are a more viable way to connect with these voters.
In conclusion, while we may quibble about the extent and reason for women’s voting for the BJP in this election, the positive evolution of the BJP among female voters in these elections signals an important shift. If this pattern continues, the BJP’s ability to win elections will further increase.
Just to put what happened in Uttar Pradesh in this election through a gender lens – assuming women and men voting are the same in UP ten percent lead over Samajwadi party among female voters (both Lokniti-CSDS and Axis My-India indicate a higher lead) produced a five percent lead for the BJP in total vote share. The rest, as they say, is complicated.
(Rahul Verma is a researcher at the Center for Policy Research (CPR) in New Delhi. Ankita Barthwal is a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Oslo, Norway.)
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