Political Reservations Help Level the Field, Show UP Panchayat Polls-2015

This analysis of around 14000 candidates who contested the first phase of Uttar Pradesh Zila Panchayat elections 2015, reveals candidate profiles based on their quota categories across reserved and unreserved seats. It shows how political reservations continue to remain relevant in empowering disadvantaged sections of society. It also briefly looks at the debate on the Women’s Reservation Bill in light of the facts which have emerged in the analysis.

Affirming the notion of dominance of men in electoral politics, it is found that male candidates heavily outnumber female candidates in the elections for the recently concluded Uttar Pradesh Zila Panchayat members. Roughly 85% of candidates contesting the elections on Unreserved (UR) seats as well as seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Other Backward Classes (OBC) were men.
Male Female Candidate Share across seats
On Unreserved Seats
On UR seats, caste along with gender plays a role in determining who contests elections. Out of 4902 candidates contesting the elections in the first phase, women candidates from SC category fare dismally with only 1.3% of total candidates. On the other hand men from unreserved category constitute more than half of the contestants at 53.2%. Men from SC category fare better than their female counterparts at 7.8%. OBC men roughly constitute one fourth of these candidates at 24.3%, while women from this category fail to reach even 5%. Women from the UR category also fail to match participation levels of men from their category with 9.2% share of candidates only.
Category wise Candidate Share on Unreserved Seats
On Seats Reserved for Women
Among seats reserved for only women candidates it is observed that along with being a woman it also matters which caste she belongs to.
Lion’s share of candidature on seats reserved for women goes to women from unreserved category at 65.4% while women from other backward category rank second at 27% and those from scheduled caste category finish last at 7.6%, similar to the unreserved seats scenario.
Category wise candidate share on seats reserved for women
On Seats Reserved for women from SC and OBC categories
The question emerges, if reserving seats for women belonging to SC and OBC categories help this scene. A broad idea can be gathered by comparing candidate to seat ratio for SC and OBC women on seats reserved for women in general and those reserved specifically for them.
While on seats reserved specifically for them, both SC and OBC women have a similar and impressive ratio of about 15 candidates per seat, this ratio is considerably lower for them on seats reserved for women. Women from backward classes perform only marginally better than those from scheduled castes with 4.3 and 1.2 candidates per seat respectively. This illustrates that specific reservations for women from disadvantaged communities improve their participation rates to a similar extent.
UP Panchayat Elections 2015
The polling for all phases of Uttar Pradesh Panchayat general elections has concluded and the results are being declared. A total of 50,865 candidates have contested these elections across 4 phases. These elections are important as they are the precursor to the upcoming assembly elections in the state in 2017.
There are in all 3127 Zila Panchayat positions up for elections. For the first phase of elections 849 Zila Panchayat wards distributed across 74 districts were up for elections. A total of 13692 valid candidates contested in this phase. 
Panchayat Elections- a Litmus Test for Political Reservations
This picture on reservations emerges specifically because unlike elections on other levels, at Panchayat level seats are reserved not only for SC but also for OBC and women candidates. In addition seats are also reserved for women from SC and OBC categories.[1]
This analysis reminds us how reservations work for ensuring better political participation and representation of disadvantaged sections of population. Probability of a candidate from a particular section of population getting elected depends on the number of candidates from that section in the fray.
Men from UR category dominate the candidature scenario on UR seats. Reservations for the disadvantaged sections i.e. SC, OBC and Women provide important opportunities to render themselves visible in political arena.
At the same time it is important to recognise the gender bias across the social boundaries as is evident by the lopsided male female participation in all categories of seats. Reservation for women is an important step to remedy this.
But as the analysis reveals it too is not enough. For women from disadvantaged sections the candidate to seat ratio drastically improves based on the specific reservations made for them.
Implications for debate on Women’s Reservation Bill
This scenario directly plays up into the (now dormant) but ongoing debate on the women’s reservation bill. Mary E John, the Senior Fellow at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi, with regards to the Women’s reservation bill writes in her recent piece in Economic and Political Weekly, “Here was a case where questions of caste and community intervened within those of gender, thus challenging the idea that “women” in general were being effectively excluded from electoral politics.” Based on these observations, the argument for challenging the said idea seems valid and relevant.
*This analysis of the first phase of elections is taken to be indicative of the entire elections on the whole.
*There is a positive error margin of 1.04% in computation of statistics due to human error from the author and wrongful data entry at source.
(Special thanks to Mudit Chaturvedi for his valuable inputs.)

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