Despite rise in women voters, representation in Bihar assembly low

Ensuring women representation in state administration is one of Nitish Kumar's campaign promises

Women voters
Women voters are considered the main vote bank of the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) | Representative Photo: PTI

The election dynamics in Bihar has witnessed a significant change with an increasing voters’ turnout among women in the last few years. The coming forward of more women in active participatory democracy has now outnumbered men voters in some constituencies in the state where elections are due in less than a week.

Despite this strong voters’ arithmetic, Bihar assembly is yet to see a proper women representation! Ensuring women representation in the state administration is one of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s campaign promises. In this article, we take a look at the representation of women both inside and outside the Bihar assembly.

The number game

In the last two assembly elections (2010 and 2015) and last year’s Lok Sabha election, the Bihari women have outnumbered the men in terms of voters’ turnout in the state. In 2015, about 53.32 per cent men voted while it was 60.48 per cent for women, according to the Election Commission of India (ECI) data. Even in terms of absolute statistics, the difference is only marginal – 1.9 crore men and 1.89 crore women voted during the 2015 election.

According to several reports, many analysts say women might outnumber men even in absolute terms this election.

Women voters’ turnout saw a steady increase between the 2005 and 2015 assembly polls. Their turnout has jumped from 42.52 per cent in February 2005 to 60.48 per cent in 2015. Meanwhile, the men were more reluctant to vote as their turnout saw only a marginal rise.

After the separation of Jharkhand, Bihar saw a steep increase among women voters. This also reflected in the overall spike in voting in the state. The overall turnout saw a jump of more than 10 per cent (46.50 to 56.66 per cent) in the last election.

Despite this rising turnout, the in-assembly representation of women had been inconsistent over these years. In 2005, the 243-seat assembly had only three women representatives that increased to 25 in the re-elections. In 2010, a few more women were elected to the assembly, taking the total tally to 34 women representatives. However, in 2015, it declined to 28 women MLAs. Of them, 10 represented RJD while nine were JD(U) candidates. The BJP and Congress had four women winners each.

Currently, 82 women are in the fray for the 2020 assembly elections, which is about 17 per cent of the total contestants. Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) has fielded 22 women candidates out of its total 115 contestants while ally BJP has given tickets to only 13 women among its total 108 contestants. RJD and Congress have fielded 17 and seven women candidates, respectively.

What’s in store for women in 2020

Women voters are considered the main vote bank of the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U). The rise in women voters’ turnout has played a major role in his three consecutive victories in the state.

This election, he has promised that if voted to power again, he’ll give a huge representation to women in administration, starting from the block level. He has also declared that women entrepreneurs would be provided ₹10 lakh financial support for new business ventures. Half of the amount would be in the form of loan while the rest would be given as grant.

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The CM has also increased educational grants for girls and women. The Class 12 grant has been increased to ₹25,000 (previously ₹12,000) while for graduation, it has been doubled to ₹50,000. These grants would be given to all women fulfilling the criteria, irrespective of their caste or community, he said. The decision to ban alcohol in the state might also help him get support from women.

Key women candidates

A few women candidates have become the talking point in the current election. Anjum Ara, who is contesting from Dumaraon constituency, has replaced the sitting JD(U) MLA to get the candidature. She is a JD(U) spokesperson and has a clean image among voters.

Sushumalata Kushwaha is another JD(U) candidate who made it to the news recently after giving birth to her child ahead of the election. She is contesting against the sitting RJD MLA Rambishun Singh Lohia from Jagdishpur. She is the sitting Panchayat Mukhiya (leader) and has shown a great performance there.

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Pushpam Priya has hit the headlines due to her visionary plans to develop Bihar. A graduate from the premier London School of Economics, she has floated her own party – The Plurals Party – to contest the state elections. She has found huge support on social media and among the youngsters in Bihar.

Now, the question remains if the increasing women voters’ turnout would help Nitish Kumar with another victory or take down his legacy.

The state will vote in three phases – October 28 , November 3 and 7 – and the results will be declared on November 10.

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