While caste- and religion-based voting had their roles to play, women, very underrated as a voting bloc, perhaps helped swing the just-concluded assembly polls in Bihar in the favour of incumbent chief minister, Nitish Kumar and his allies. Their participation, for the second time in Bihar, bettered the men’s—nearly 60% of registered women voters voted this time compared to just over 54% of male voters.
In a column in The Hindu, Shamika Ravi of the Brookings Institution, India, pointed out how Bihar’s October 2005 assembly election makes the case for why political parties would do well to pitch specifically to women voters. Analysing Election Commission data, Ravi establishes how women were behind a change in the winning party (from the poll in February 2005) in 87 of the state’s 243 assembly constituencies—as a result of which Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) trounced the incumbent RJD as the single-largest party. While there was an overall increase in women voters’ turnout in that election—compared to a fall in that of the male voters—data showed the average growth rate in the number of female voters was almost three times more in constituencies where there was a change in the winning party than in those where the same political parties were re-elected. However, no such change was noticed in case of male voters in both types of constituencies. The same seems to have happened this time, only to the benefit of the incumbent—the governance of the Nitish Kumar regime benefited women in the state, from facilitating mobility for girl students to a better law and order situation and increasing reach of electrification helping improve women’s safety.