Reservations have long formed a fundamental tenet of affirmative action in India. Quotas for representation of various disadvantaged groups proliferate across public educational institutions and government jobs. However, elections to public office have largely escaped such quotas, except those that are caste-based. A shift in this status quo occurred in 1992 with the establishment of the Panchayati Raj system of grassroots governance. 34% of all seats under Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) were to be reserved for women under the 73rd amendment. Another constitutional amendment passed in September 2009 increased PRI quotas for women to 50%. This paper seeks to examine if the 2009 increase in mandated female representation in PRIs from 34% to 50% had an impact on female candidates’ performance in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections, where there continue to be no quotas for women. In doing so, I seek to understand if reservations indeed change underlying voter behavior—do descriptive changes in representation at one level motivate changes at another? Given that largely the same electorate votes for candidates at differing levels of government, it is likely that change in attitudes towards candidates at one level impacts elections to higher levels of government. This paper contributes to literature by examining the upward impact of quotas in PRIs on elections to levels of government that do not have reservations for female candidates, thus giving a better indication of underlying change in general voter behaviour. I found largely insignificant or slightly negative effects of female reservation on performance of female candidates in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections immediately succeeding the imposition of these reservations in 2009. Even as female representation may signal the progressive nature of a society, there is some evidence of a backlash effect that may go away (or is simply difficult to assess over time). There is hazard in arguing the quotas can solve the problems of regressive social norms – mandating 34 to 50% quotas in communities where women take up less than 10% of political seats can lead to unforeseen effects, and reduce the quota to a form of token, statistical representation for women. However, the initial hesitancy and backlash can lead the way to a positive equilibrium and more equitable society in the long run, achieving change that would have otherwise taken decades to attain organically.
"Token Representation?: Impact of Female Reservations in Panchayati Raj Institutions in Elections to State and National Legislatures,"
Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Politics, Economics and World Affairs: Vol. 1:
2, Article 10.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.dartmouth.edu/dujpew/vol1/iss2/10