How she votes
Analysis of the mandate won by the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi reveals that women voters had an unprecedented say in shaping its landslide victory. According to a poll-eve survey conducted by the Lokniti-CSDS, 60 per cent women voted for AAP, as compared to 49 per cent men — a gender divide formerly unheard of. In all, a staggering majority of women voters (69 per cent) voted for AAP, as compared to the BJP (35 per cent), a lead of 25 per cent. The current of support for AAP from women cut across caste, class and age groups — and made the difference between a narrow win, and a massive one.
For a while now, a growing political mobilisation of women has been showing up in turnout figures, even if it has had little influence on their skewed political representation. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections the gap between male and female voter turnout was closed for the first time. In the Delhi election, too, the difference was negligible. The significant and articulate presence of women in the anti-CAA protests is another manifestation of this deepening of democracy. The old, disparaging shibboleth about women meekly acting out male diktats at the ballot box needs a burial. But also, the tantalising possibility of a woman’s vote needs to be considered. In Indian democracy’s meticulous arithmetic of caste and religion, the woman voter and her concerns often slip through the cracks. In recent years, however, political parties have become more responsive to this demographic, and have tried to adapt ideas of welfare to their specific concerns — be it Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s controversial policy of prohibition or PM Narendra Modi’s unexceptionable decision to put the might of the state behind building toilets and delivering gas cylinders to homes. The AAP’s free bus ride scheme for women recognised their need for mobility, and the potentially detoxifying effect of female presence in public spaces. It is, therefore, doubly disquieting that the new Kejriwal government, evidently swept to power by women’s choices, has no place for women in its cabinet.
One way of reading the Delhi result suggests that women voters were repulsed by the spitfire of violent slogans from the BJP and its divisive rhetoric, and more drawn to the calmer politics of service delivery espoused by AAP. While it might be simplistic to think of women as more rational voters, immune to the lure of identity politics, their overwhelming, decisive presence in politics ought to offer a path to a new political imagination. A women’s vote must also translate into more women in cabinets, assemblies and party organisations.