Women voters in India will play a decisive role in determining the outcome in the country’s general election, polling for which begins on April 7th.
According to India’s election commission, the independent body that oversees all legislative polls, the gap between male and female voters has been falling steadily since 1962 and was the lowest in the last 2009 parliamentary polls.
An analysis by the commission showed that in 16 of the 20 states that went to the polls after 2010, women’s voting percentage was higher than men’s. And, in the two most populous states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, more women’s votes were recorded. Between them, these two states in northern and eastern India account for 120 of the country’s 545 parliamentary seats and are crucial for any party seeking power to win.
Opinion polls indicate that elections in India's complex political scenario to replace prime minister Manmohan Singh's Congress Party-led federal collation that has been in power for 10 years, will be indeterminate.
The main contenders are the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headed by Narendra Modi (63), the son of a tea vendor, and the unpopular Congress Party led by Rahul Gandhi (43), scion of India's Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty. Polls indicate that whichever of these two emerges as the largest, it will need to forge a coalition comprising regional parties.
No single party has won a parliamentary majority in India since 1989, giving populist regional leaders immense power at the national level.
So confused is the electoral scene, that these regional leaders also harbour prime ministerial ambitions. If instances in the 1990s are any indication, they could well succeed.
Meanwhile, former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi believes women will be a “major electoral force” in the elections as they were “no longer hesitant to show their electoral preferences”.
A nationwide survey by the Election Commission in 2009 found women were hesitant to cast their vote alone, feeling more at ease when escorted by a male.
To overcome this, the commission deployed officials to voters’ homes with details including the polling booth number and its location.
“This has shown results in higher outcome of voters [especially women] who were normally left out,” chief election commissioner VS Sampath said recently in New Delhi.
Meanwhile, a recent survey reveals Indian women work 21 times harder than their men in the home. The Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development survey showed women spend five hours doing household work every day compared with the 19 minutes expended by their men.