Mr. Rebates

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Women’s Votes Key to Nitish Kumar’s Bihar Victory

Nov 25, 2010

Woman power appears to have played a pivotal role in Nitish Kumar’s landslide victory in the assembly elections in Bihar, an eastern Indian state that is notorious for its lawlessness and corruption but that also appears to be slowly overcoming that reputation.

Women voters turned out at a higher rate than men, with 54.85% of registered female voters casting a ballot in state assembly elections that were spread over a month compared to 50.70% of male voters, according to an election commission official in Patna, the state capital.

“The turnout of women voters was over 60% in nine out of 38 districts in Bihar, while women outnumbered men in 23 other districts,” Rakesh Kumar, the election official, told India Real Time Thursday.

In the wake of Mr. Kumar’s victory, news reports pointed to his endeavors to put more power in the hands of the state’s women through programs like reserving 50% of seats in village councils for them or offering cash grants to girls who achieved high scores in school exams.

“We got reservation in local bodies, employment and social security and above all respect and dignity, which is hard to find in a male-dominated society,” said Pallavi Singh, a school teacher in Patna.
Since Bihar’s high rate of crime made women’s lives particularly restrictive, women also voted for Mr. Kumar’s focus on law and order. Nivedita Sinha, said that in the past girls used to leave the state for jobs in other places but now they don’t.

“With more job opportunities in the state, our girls are sticking to their home ground for work,” said Ms. Sinha, a house wife.

She added: “We can send our daughters for work, not fearing they won’t come back safe. I voted for this security.”

Nihrora Prasad Yadav, the spokesman for Mr. Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), gave the party chief the credit for the win.

“It is the personality of Nitish Kumar that motivated women to turn up in large numbers at the polling booths,” said Mr. Yadav.

Mr. Yadav said that Mr. Kumar had provided medical facilities even in farflung parts of the state and made it easier for children from poor families, and especially girls, to get an education by distributing books, uniforms and even bicycles to young girls to ride to school.

The focus on women appeared to distinguish Mr. Kumar from his main rival, the Rashtriya Janata Party’s Lalu Prasad Yadav, who presided over the state for 15 years until being ousted by Mr. Kumar five years ago. Mr. Kumar will now begin his second term as chief minister of Bihar.

According to the Indian Media, Mr. Yadav, on being asked about the high female turnout, suggested that women vote as told to by their menfolk: “Rabri Devi will vote only where I ask her to,” the paper reported him as saying.

Prabhat Ghosh, political analyst at the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute, says the growing participation by women in Bihar’s assembly elections should be interpreted as a confirmation of the beneficial effects to political parties of carrying out programs of affirmative action for women, including reserving seats.
“The obvious message is that the state governments need to be more receptive to the needs of women,” Mr. Ghosh said.

Still, it could be a while until women are looked at as a key constituency to be wooed across India, in the way religious and caste groups are.

“Though the gap between men and women voters is narrowing down, it is still huge,” says Sanjay Kumar, a fellow at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, a think-tank in New Delhi.


1 comment: