India's general elections 2019 may have more women voters than ever before — and that may be a game changer

  • The voter turnout among women may surpass that of men in the Parliamentary elections scheduled this summer.
  • A new book ‘The Verdict’ authored by veteran journalist Prannoy Roy and election researcher Dorab Sopariwala documents the sharp rise in women voter turnout in recent years
  • Some regional parties are already nominating a significantly higher number of women for the Parliamentary elections scheduled this summer.
India’s much-celebrated democracy has strikingly left women under-represented as well as disenfranchised for decades but the wave may now be turning.

“In 1962, women’s turnout was 15% lower than men’s turnout; but by 2014 women’s turnout had almost reached parity with men, short by only 1.5%,” according to book called ‘The Verdict’, authored by veteran Indian journalist Prannoy Roy and election researcher Dorab Sopariwala.

Despite the spectacular rise, Roy and Sopariwala estimate 21 million women did not get their right to vote in 2014 because they were not registered. Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar ranked the worst for women turnout; West Bengal, Assam, and Odisha aside from smaller states like Lakshadweep, Nagaland, and Dadra and Nagar Haveli were among the best.

The good news is that the turnout has only got better since 2014.

The proportion of women who stepped out to vote surpassed that of men in the assembly elections held in 2017 and 2018. It was as high as 70% for women in the last two years, compared to 43% among men, the chapter noted. The six states that went to polls in the last two years were Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

Some parties have already woken up to the reality. Ruling parties in two states- West Bengal and Odisha- have already declared that they will field significantly higher number of women candidates than in the past for the upcoming elections for the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian Parliament.

Possible impact

Roy and Sopariwala look back at data from the 2014 elections and arrive at a hypothetical conclusion on how the rise in voting women may change the electoral math.

In 2014, the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party had a lead of 9% among women voters, compared to a lead of 19% among men.

Therefore, if only women had voted in 2014 elections -- without changing the parties they voted for -- the winning NDA would have ended up with 265 seats, seven short of majority. And if only men had voted, the NDA would have swept the election with 376 seats.

While the hypothesis and the conclusion may be too simplistic, there is a case to be made that how women cast their vote may be different from how men do. And as the number of women who vote rises, the wiser parties will review their strategy, the candidates they nominate, the issues they raise and the promises they make.
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