Un-fair game of politics

By Esha Chaudhuri

In India, empirically and factually analysing women’s presence in politics remains largely underrepresented. The abysmal numbers that make it to the data charts owe credit to their associations with dynastic links. However, this analogy applies to women actively participating in the elections as leaders and representatives. This equivalence does not run as a parallel with regards to women as voters, as evident from the most recent election trends (Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram) where women comprised a large share of the electorate and in which the voting trends shaped the outcome of those elections.
It can be one prism that views women as actively leading and the other wherein one capitalises on changing trends from down below at an operational level as voters. However, like any other professional field, the graph isn’t a linear one when it concerns women and their representation, as one treads up the ladder and focuses on the echelons of power.
As I explore the many reasons which aid and factor the lack of presence of women or that make it frictional path for women to enter politics, I will also unravel the linkage of women and their family lineage that aids to their benefit making it a less troublesome road for women from political families to participate as representatives.
Firstly, the defaulter of generic gendered disadvantage that stems from the gender norms and roles that are bestowed to the binaries of men and women do not consider women as a potential player in the game of politics; creating a stark segregation of the public versus private debate. In short, elections are considered a male bastion.
Secondly, while there are women who break such shackles and aspire to become political leaders, mainstream political parties do not lose focus from the winnable attributes of candidates. In politics, numbers are everything — a game changer/breaker and while tokenism and identity politics is an element for causal influence on the electorate, it is strategically calculated on the basis of victory that is assured with a nominee. This, ordinarily is usually seen to favour male contenders over females.
While the causal factors 1 and 2 (generic gender disadvantage and winnable attributes of candidates) are conventionally considered shortcomings when it comes to women’s underrepresentation in politics, the clubbing of these two equals a situation wherein women with advantage (through lineage and political backgrounds) find it easier to enter politics and also win elections and nullify the frictional patterns. Situation is one of token but definitely gives women lee way into politics – Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Jayalalithaa, Sheikh Hasina, Benazir Bhutto, Queen Elizabeth are historically mighty examples of women owing their political careers to their family yokes. It is imperative at this point to flag that dynasties do not always create a hotbed for women to enter politics but make for comparatively less challenging roads — Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s recent advent, as well as Pramod Mahajan’s daughter’s entry after his sudden demise. Drawing a parallel, names such as Agatha Sangma, Miani Shira and Ampareen Lyngdoh echo in our very own Meghalaya.
How does dynasticism help women in politics? Dynasticism enables women to overcome obstacles to their entering electoral politics. One of these in the Indian context is the ever-increasing criminalisation of politics. Women politicians encounter slanderous campaigns their male rivals direct against them. Their dynastic background provides them protection. Their rivals will hesitate to risk the wrath of an entrenched political dynasty.
Therefore, as many academicians argue that if there is a lack of democratic affirmative for the lack of representation of women in politics, and if dynasties ensure a fair number of women being represented in elections, then it is safe to say that two negatives create a positive.
Internationally too, this pattern finds resonance — in China for example, in a study of Chinese voters, one factor that was considered in selecting the leading body of China was candidates from a powerful family background called princelings. Candidates ‬with princeling status ‬implied that ‬they would ‬have more ‬access to resources and networks to their advantage. If the princelings were descendants of a political family, it was assumed that they had more familiarity and loyalty to a political party and its regime.
“In the US Congress, female legislators are nearly three times as likely as men to come from dynastic families — 31.2 per cent versus 8.4per cent, respectively,” writes Amrita Basu, who furnishes a list of women leaders who followed male members of their families into politics.‬‬‬‬‬‬
Basu has authored a book on gender and political dynasties.
All in all, women in general are considered foreigners in the field of politics even in countries which celebrate gender equality in higher volumes — US (no female president till date) as it is a male bastion. It is not to say that I’m justifying the presence of political dynasties and neither am I claiming that such dynasties will always favour women’s candidature in politics.
I’m simply making an analytical inference that while dynasties themselves would prefer a male inheritor, they still make women’s entry point to politics less detrimental, as compared to an ordinary situation. For instance, during the period between 1996 and 2007, over 90 per cent of Japanese politicians were male and some 30 per cent of the Japanese parliament was from political dynasties and daughters were unlikely to form part of political dynasties in that country, as power is often passed on to sons.
There is a long way to go before this misogynistic mindset changes and accepts women as one of its own. Winnability is trumped by gender biases even in those parties that are lead by women. In the case of women, since they’re not viewed to be natural leaders; often questioning their credentials to contest elections and also emerging victorious is a major seat of debate.
It’ll also make for an interesting study to see the percentage of tickets given to women candidates by leading parties in the upcoming general elections in the country where till date there are 11per cent female representatives in the lower house of the Parliament. Typically then, women who come from a certain family, holding decades of power in a constituency, district, state or such clusters are often given weightage over those who do not have a male superseding their existence. Kinship association continues to boost women into national electoral politics, which is due to women’s dependence upon familial capital to augment the opportunity structure, particularly when there is late entry into politics.

(The author is a master’s graduate from London School of Economics and works on gender issues in the interiors of India. The original article was first published in
She The People)

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