2019 elections: Who will get the women’s votes in Tamilnadu?

Chennai: Who will the women vote for? This question is crucial in the context of Tamilnadu for a plethora of reasons, the prime one being that 18 April will see the first general elections after the demise of J Jayalalithaa, who was hitherto drawing women’s votes in large numbers.

MGR

Even as elite women organise rallies in connection with the Lok Sabha election across the country in the major cities and the hashtag #halfthevote trends, creating awareness on a slew of women’s issues, the basic question ‘whom will the women vote for in general in Tamilnadu’ has not been mulled over with due seriousness.

Though women do not form a homogeneous group and cannot be expected to vote unitedly for a single party or a person, Tamilnadu’s political history has shown that the leader enjoying women’s admiration had been ahead of the rest in popularity. It has always been believed that the late Chief Minister M G Ramachandran (lovingly called MGR) could never been unseated after he assumed power because the women of the State stood by him.

The term ‘women of the State,’ of course, does not cover each and every person belonging to the female gender. It only refers to the majority of the women voters from the middle and lower middle-classes and mostly from the small towns and rural areas of the State. That they form the deciding factor in elections is due to the fact that they have a tendency to think alike and vote alike, their diverse socio-economic backgrounds, educational qualifications, commitments, aspirations and even political ideologies notwithstanding.

Jayalalithaa

For, all said and done, politics still remains a man’s world, dominated by the principles of patriarchy with the number of women in active politics remaining abysmally negligible – be it the candidates seeking elections or star campaigners or grassroots-level party workers – despite women forming a little more than 50 per cent of the close to six crore voters in Tamilnadu.

So, many women, who also put up with the ugly face of patriarchy in the humdrum of their everyday existence, saw in Jayalalithaa an ideal leader and admired her for making men down go on their knees. They also believed that she was aware of their problems and voted for her, irrespective of the male family members’ exhortations and political affiliations.

In the era before Jayalalithaa, MGR caught the imagination of the women through his good looks and do-gooder image, popularised and perpetuated through his movies. So, after he broke away from the DMK in 1972 to form his AIADMK, he remained invincible till his death in 1987. Jayalalithaa, who took over his mantle, endeared herself to the women voters till her passing away in December 2016.

So now, whom will those ‘women of the State’ vote for? Though for some older generation women the symbol ‘two leaves’, popularised by MGR and Jayalalithaa, may be an enduring political image worthy of a tap on the EVM, the vast majority of the more informed women may not find the present leadership of the party worth voting for.

Will they then vote for the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK)? Or will they switch loyalties to other parties? If so, have the other parties worked out a strategy to woo them?

Though there is also a perception in political circles that these women will swing towards the party that ‘pays’ them the most, it may not be the case with all women.

This brings us to the question if those women will prefer the handful of women candidates and vote for them.

Whatever it is, political parties have shown no inclination to make their functioning more women-friendly, which is evident from the candidates’ list for this election.

Among the national parties, the BJP and Congress have fielded only one woman each – Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan (BJP) in Tirunelveli and Jothimani Sennimalai (Congress) in Karur – though they are contesting in five and nine seats respectively.

Even the number of women contestants of the DMK, AIADMK, AMMK and Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam are very few.

Kanimozhi and Tamizhachi Thangapandian (both DMK) in Tirunelveli and South Chennai, and actor Nassers’ wife Kameela Nasser (MNM) in Central Chennai, are just the well-know women trying their luck in the elections. Only actor Seeman’s Naam Tamizhar Katchi has given 50 per cent reservation for women in the selection of candidates and its North Chennai nominee, Kalaiammal, has raised a story on the Internet through her fiery speeches.

The list of ‘star campaigners’ of the various parties, too, is disappointing. Very few women who can really canvass for votes for the candidates figure in the lists. Though there are film personalities like Khushboo (Congress) and Hema Malini (BJP), they may not able to impress upon the voters their ideas.

So, with just 12 days left for the elections, time is running out for the serious political parties to come up with a strategy to garner the votes of the women of the State. For that is a vote that will count the most in the final reckoning.

G Babu Jayakumar