The recent Punjab elections of 2022 were a dismal show for women candidates. The major parties that contested the elections fielded a total of 38 candidates between themselves. This included 12 that were fielded by the Aam Aadmi Party. The Congress party which was touted as the pro-women party in the recent Uttar Pradesh state legislative Assembly elections nominated a meagre 11. The Bharatiya Janata Party fielded 6 women candidates. The Shiromani Akali Dal fielded 5, whereas the Shiromani Akali Dal (Sanyukht) fielded just 1.
Despite the poor numbers, 11 of the candidates across parties managed to win seats in the election. However, a look at the data from the 1962 Assembly elections (this election is also when Punjab had not been split into Haryana and Himachal Pradesh), shows that the trend of women making it to Assembly seats has remained low throughout.
This piece will study closely, analyzing the TCPD- IED Dataset, and two questions. Firstly it will look at the historical data when it comes to women’s representation in the state. These will look at one main facet– political dynasticism and its role in getting women re-elected. The second question will study the recent elections more closely and analyze whether the anti-incumbency wave had an impact on the election of women candidates since almost all of them had no political background.
The TCPD- IED Dataset indicates that since 1962, women have been elected only 94 times. This also includes women who have been re-elected. For example, the Bholath constituency in the Doaba region elected Jagir Kaur(Shiromani Akali Dal) thrice– 1997, 2002 and 2012.
In 2017, the three-time member of the Legislative assembly and son of the stalwart Akali leader Sukhjinder Singh Khaira, Sukhpal Singh Khaira got elected to the seat from the Aam Aadmi Party. The current MLA is also Sukhpal Singh Khaira but he contested from the Indian National Congress instead. The reason why she did not run again is that she was getting prosecuted for the death of her own daughter. The court did not allow her to contest the election in the 2017 elections.
This trend is very apparent in SC constituencies. In Sham Chaurasi, Jagraon, Dina Nagar and Chamkaur Sahib– women were elected at least twice over. In the case of Dina Nagar, women were consecutively elected in 1997, 2002 and then in 2012, 2017 and 2022. Roop Rani was the MLA in 1997 after which Aruna Chaudhary retained her seat. Aruna Chaudhary is the only woman MLA to win from the Indian National Congress in 2022, whose seat share got reduced to just 18 in a state that was once ruled by them. She is also one of the few political dynasts (her father-in-law Jai Muni Chaudhary was a four-time MLA), that managed to hold onto her seat even if her margin of victory was merely 1377 votes.
In Chamkaur Sahib, Satwant Kaur managed to hold onto her seat for almost 4 terms(1977, 1980, 1997, 2002). She joined politics in 1974 after her husband, and then deputy minister of the Punjab government passed away.
The seat has since been held by Charanjit Singh Channi till 2022 who was also the interim Chief Minister of Punjab once Capt Amarinder resigned in 2021. Currently, the seat is held by a different Charanjit Singh from the Aam Aadmi Party who managed to defeat a sitting Chief Minister.
Another interesting constituency is Majithia. Since 1962 the constituency has only elected two women candidates. Parkash Kaur in 1962 and Ganieve Kaur Majithia in 2022. Ganieve’s husband Bikramjit Singh Majitha, brother of Harsimrat Kaur Badal has been a Member of the Legislative assembly consistently since 2007. He did not contest from his home seat this year because he ended up contesting against Navjot Singh Sidhu in Amritsar. However, he lobbied for his wife, who despite having no political history, got elected with a 46.69 percent vote share. Lalli Majithia and Jagga Majitha, both brothers came in second and third. Lalli a close confidant of the previous Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh came in second while his brother came in third. He has contested elections thrice before, losing all three times but has significant stalwarts backing him. However, the strength of political dynasticism remains a strong factor in contesting elections from Majitha.
While women have been contesting, they end up contesting from seats that have either previously been held by their husbands, or their family members have a strong foothold in the politics of Punjab. In the case of Majitha, the seat has effectively been a family seat for the last couple of decades.
This has two implications. Historical data indicates that women have been elected too few times. But looking at individual constituencies and the political career of women politicians also indicates that they seem to be staying in power because of the consistent support from political dynasties. That is to say that their entry into politics is premised on their political family connections even if they later retain their seat as candidates on their own.
The data for 2022 however indicates that out of the 38 women contesting elections in 2022, 12 were political dynasts. Around 32 percent of all women that were fielded from the major parties had links to older political families or had themselves been in power for a longer period of time. Interestingly, out of the 13 women that did get elected, 10 were first-time candidates. This could be a factor of the ‘AAP wave’. Vivek Gupta in an article for the Wire mentions that there has been a wave of dissent against the old guard in Punjab. As the Aam Aadmi Party did a clean sweep of the state, destabilizing older more established political heavyweights including the illustrious Badals and even the previous sitting Chief Minister, Charanjit Singh Channi.This enabled newer candidates to make a space for themselves. Candidates, relatively unheard of, were getting elected against those that had been hoarding power for the last few generations.
This has an impact on the way women candidates are perceived. An implication that can be drawn from this is that the election of first-time women candidates was because most of them were contesting from a party that came at a time when there was a strong anti-incumbency wave in Punjab against the Congress. Most of the candidates that were contesting were also Graduates. Out of the women that did end up getting elected, only 3 of them were not graduates. Even in the face of an anti-incumbency wave, the bar remains abysmally high for new women candidates even if they do not technically belong to the traditional political families of Punjab.
In conclusion, while women candidates have historically relied on political connections and dynasties to gain entry into politics, it seems that an anti-incumbency wave affects men and women both. However, the bar still remains prohibitively high as the women that tend to get elected are either graduates or have had the opportunity to access the field through social work. The association of education with social capital as well as funding is easily made, making entry into politics in Punjab extremely difficult. While AAP makes inroads by challenging dominant political families, women still have to be more educated and more qualified than male candidates to be considered competitive.
AAP might have strangled the old guard, but this new seat of power is still very much steeped in a large amount of privilege.
I thank Sai Vikas and Poulomi Ghosh for reviewing this piece and for their guidance during the research for putting together this Piece
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- Ananay Agarwal, Neelesh Agrawal, Saloni Bhogale, Sudheendra Hangal, Francesca Refsum Jensenius, Mohit Kumar, Chinmay Narayan, Basim U Nissa, Priyamvada Trivedi, and Gilles Verniers. 2021. “TCPD Indian Elections Data v2.0″, Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University.
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- Gupta, Vivek. “Why an Aap ‘Tsunami’ – and Not Just Wave – Has Come over Punjab.” The Wire, March 10, 2022. https://thewire.in/politics/why-an-aap-tsunami-and-not-just-wave-has-come-over-punjab.
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This article belongs to the author and is independent of the views of the Centre.