Historically, Karnataka has never seen strong women representation in the state assembly polls. The 2023 elections were no different. Of the 185 women nominated for this election, the Bharatiya Janata Party nominated 12 women representatives, Congress nominated 11 and the Janata Dal (Secular) 13. The highest number of women (17) were nominated by the Aam Aadmi Party, even though they failed to make any mark in the Karnataka assembly elections.
The data over the past 45 years, from 1978, shows that there has been a slight increase in women participation and some wins, but the rate of increase is too slow (as shown in Figure 1).
Figure 1. Women representation in Karnataka state assembly elections from 1978 to 2023. The data excludes bypolls. Source: LokDhaba, TCPD
Figure 1 shows that the rate of women participation has been steadily increasing over the years at a very slow pace. In 1985, the number of women contesting candidates was high as a lot of women fought the election as independents. The figure does not capture bypoll data. However, there was only one instance of a woman winning the seat in the 2019 bypolls. Kusumavati Channabasappa Shivalli won from the Kundgol assembly constituency on a Congress ticket.
The first woman MLA in Karnataka was Kadidal Manjula, who was elected from the Muddebihal constituency in the 1967 state assembly elections. She was a member of the Congress. Manjula’s victory marked a significant milestone in the political history of Karnataka, as she became the first woman to hold a seat in the state legislative assembly and no doubt her election paved the way for more women to enter the political sphere, but more efforts need to be taken up to bridge the vast gap between male and female participation.
Various party representatives were asked why they do not nominate more women and to that all of them provided a similar seasoned response saying that it is not them who do not nominate women, in fact women do not want to become career politicians because of societal pressure. Moreover, it was also put forth very blatantly that in a state like Karnataka, voters do not prefer women MLAs, because they do not trust the capability of a woman to be able to take up the responsibilities of being elected as an MLA.
Since any political parties’ main aim is to win the election, they prefer not to take any risk by nominating women.
The 2023 election results saw 10 women winning their seats. Of them three are from the BJP, four from Congress, two from JD(S) and one fought as an independent. However, right after the results were announced, the independent candidate, Latha Mallikarjun, daughter of veteran leader and former deputy chief minister, late M.P. Prakash, who got elected from the Harapanahalli assembly constituency, extended her unwavering support to the Congress party.
Laxmi R. Hebbalkar (Congress), who is a sitting MLA from Belgaum Rural, managed to retain her seat as did Roopakala M. (Congress), both with a margin of over 50,000 votes. Congress’s Kaneez Fatima was already in the limelight having led the protests against the hijab ban. She defeated BJP’s Chandrakant Patil in the Gulbarga Uttar constituency by 2,712 votes.
Interestingly however, Karnataka education minister B.C. Nagesh, who imposed the hijab ban, lost his Tiptur seat. Nagesh was defeated by Congress candidate K. Shadakshari by a margin of 17,652 votes. Nayana Motamma, lawyer from NLSIU, Bangalore, won from Mudigere by a small margin of 722 votes.
Congress’s incumbent MLA Sowmya Reddy, the almost-winner from Jayanagar, needs to be mentioned in this case. After declaring that she has won by a margin of 160 votes, the Election Commission had to call for a recounting of votes when Bengaluru South MP Tejasvi Surya and Padmanabhanagar MLA R. Ashok objected vociferously to the rejection of 177 postal ballot votes. After several rounds of recounting that went on until midnight, BJP candidate C.K. Ramamurthy was declared the winner by a margin of 16 votes.
On the BJP side, Shashikala Annasaheb Jolle, an incumbent MLA, retained her Nippani seat with a margin of 7,292 votes. In 2019, she was inducted as the cabinet minister in the BJP government led by B.S. Yediyurappa. Manjula S. won the Mahadevapura seat with a margin of 44,501 votes and Bhagirathi Murulya won from Sullia assembly constituency.
Murulya deserves a special mention as she became the first Dalit woman from Coastal Karnataka to enter the legislative assembly. Sullia has been one of BJP’s strongholds ever since the party entered Karnataka politics. This year, however, there was a lot of internal tension going on when the BJP denied a ticket to its six-time MLA S. Angara.
To ease the tension, the party nominated a woman candidate from the Dalit community. Murulya, however, rose to the task and secured more votes than S. Angara did in 2018. She won with a margin of 30,874 votes while Angara’s margin was at 26,068 votes.
The state of inclusion of women in Karnataka politics still remains a distant dream. However, it is encouraging to have a woman representing the Dalit community for the first time in Coastal Karnataka and women like the Congress MLA, who had thrown caution to the winds and protested against the hijab ban, to be elected. Patriarchy still remains a deep-rooted cause for women who are unable to participate freely in politics. It will be worthwhile to see whether the statistics on women representation increases further in Karnataka or draws to a standstill.
Poulomi Ghosh is a research fellow at Trivedi Centre for Political Science, Ashoka University.