In 2019, a total of 715 women candidates contested the Lok Sabha elections against a total of around 7,334 male candidates. So, how did they fare against their male and other female counterparts?
The results are a mixed bag, with some notable successes and some expected losses. The most notable success has been the BJP candidate Smriti Irani, who has succeeded in trouncing Congress president Rahul Gandhi in the Gandhi family bastion of Amethi. Irani defeated Gandhi by 52,000 votes, pulling off one of the biggest upsets in this election. Following her victory, she tweeted, “who says there cannot be a hole in the sky.”
While Irani is known to have nurtured this constituency after her loss here in 2014 – by visiting it frequently and by focusing on issues of education and health thereby winning the hearts of women voters, film actress Hema Malini’s victory from Mathura must be attributed largely to the Modi wave. Malini, had contested and won from Mathura on a BJP ticket in 2014. But even BJP loyalists in this holy city were surprised at her being given a ticket this time around because she seldom visited Mathura and has been criticised for having done little work on the ground. Her defeating the Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Kunwar Narendra Singh has come as a shocker because the Jat votes had consolidated in his favour.
Sixteen women MPs re-contesting from their seats who have gone on to win are from the BJP. These include Sultanpur candidate Maneka Gandhi, Chandigarh BJP candidate Kirron Kher and New Delhi MP Meenakshi Lekhi. At one time, it was rumoured that Lekhi was not going to be given the ticket to contest the New Delhi constituency. But her master stroke of filing a criminal contempt case against Rahul Gandhi for making the ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ remark against Modi in the Rafale fighter case ensured her being given the ticket. Sonia Gandhi is the only sitting woman MP from the Congress who has been re-elected. NCP leader Supriya Sule managed to hold on to her seat from Baramati.
The wives of Punjab’s most prominent families fared well. Preneet Kaur – wife of Captain Amarinder Singh – wrested the Patiala seat from the SAD candidate by 1.60 lakh votes. Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, wife of SAD president Sukhbir Badal won from the Bathinda constituency in Punjab by a margin of 21,000 votes. Both women are known to be bitter rivals as indeed are their husbands.
The Trinamool Congress leader distributed 17 out of 42 seats to women candidates. Many of those seats went to Tollywood actresses such as Nusrat Jahan, Mimi Chakraborty, Satabdi Roy and Moon Moon Sen. Nusrat Jahan won with a 3.5 lakh majority form Basirhat constituency. Jahan had to face a great deal of criticism during her campaign but she seems to have emerged stronger and claims she is determined to work towards the welfare of the people. Mimi Chakraborty won from Jadavpur with a 2.9 lakh margin and Satabdi Roy won by 88,924 votes.
Moon Moon Sen – who had emerged as the giant killer in the last election – lost from Asansol primarily because of her foolish remark that she was not aware of the violent clashes that had erupted in her constituency since she had been served bed tea “very late”. Equally foolish was her dismissal of the desecration of the Ishwar Chandra Vidyasager’s bust as being a “tiny incident”.
The BJP unleashed its own brand of women power to counter this Trinamool attack by making Bengali actress Locket Chatterjee, who had been heading the BJP women’s cell in Bengal, fight from the Hooghly constituency. Chatterjee went on to defeat TMC’s Ratna Dey Nag by a narrow margin.
Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s gamble to give one-third of the Lok Sabha seats of his party to women seems to have paid off with six of these women candidates having won. The most prominent of these has been the 70-year old class II dropout Pramila Bisoi, who represents the 70-lakh odd members of women self -help groups that the BJD has nurtured. Bisoi has won from the prestigious Aska constituency.
Of course, the most controversial victory remains that of Pragya Thakur, the Malegaon blast-accused who defeated former chief minister and Congress candidate Digvijaya Singh by a margin of three lakh votes. This despite her calling Nathuram Godse a patriot and claiming it was her curse on IPS Hemanat Karkare that resulted in him being killed by terrorists in Mumbai in 2008 .
Several high profile women candidates have lost. Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao definitely received a huge setback when his daughter K. Kavita lost from the Nizamabad constituency to BJP candidate Dharmapuri Arvind.
This constituency was in the forefront because it saw 185 candidates contest from here, from which 178 were farmers. These farmers had been demanding a fair price for turmeric which is grown extensively in Telangana. Over-production saw turmeric prices crash and the perception in the state was that Kavita, who had promised an MSP on it, failed to take any action.
Another high profile woman candidate who had to bite the dust was former J&K chief minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti from the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat. Mufti’s popularity had plummeted to an all time low after her party entered into an alliance with the BJP to rule the state and Kashmiris continue to hold her responsible for the spiralling violence the state has witnessed in the last two years.
Not only did she lose to the National Conference Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi but also the Congress state unit president Ghulam Ahmed Mir who got more votes than her.
Other key losers include Jaya Prada who contested on a BJP ticket from Rampur constituency against the Mahagathbandhan candidate Mohammed Azam Khan.
Jaya Prada had earlier won from Rampur in 2004 and 2009 on the Samajwadi ticket but broke away from the party along with Amar Singh. And though they formed their own party, it has made little headway in the election mix of the country.
Former Bollywood star Urmila Matondkar lost from the Mumbai north constituency against BJP candidate Gopal Shetty.
Another bitterly contested fight was between BJP MP Poonam Mahajan and Congress candidate Priya Dutt for the Mumbai north central seat. Dutt held several nukkad meetings and promised to work for the poor but ended up losing by 1.86 lakh votes.
The biggest surprise this election was Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav’s decision to parachute Poonam Sinha, wife of actor Shatrughan Sinha, and get her to contest against the home minister Rajnath Singh from UP’s nerve centre – the city of Lucknow. Sinha has no claim to fame as an actress, nor has she any history of activism.
Why she was brought in remains a mystery because, from the start, it was obvious she was not match to the home minister. The lack of wisdom in choosing candidates can also explain why Akhilesh Yadav’s wife Dimple lost from Kannauj, given that she too has failed to make a mark as a parliamentarian.