Indian political parties rely on a large number of party cadre to build and maintain a loyal base of supporters. In the Bharatiya Jananta Party (BJP)—the world’s largest political party in terms of party membership—a quarter to a third of all members are women. Women party cadre in Dehradun undertake everyday and exceptional forms of political labour, from assisting ‘voters’ gain access to state entitlements, to generating ‘social energy’ (Bedi 2016), to campaigning in elections. Much of this labour is affective, involving the engendering of sentiments: obligation, gratitude, outrage, belonging. This paper aims to provide a conceptual framework to understand these different types of labour, and the forms of political capital they generate. In doing so, I aim to reveal the ways that the male party elites appropriate the benefits of women’s affective labour, and the consequences of this appropriation for ongoing male dominance of party politics. The mechanisms that facilitate women’s exploitation are, I argue, overlooked factors in the under-representation of women in politics in India, and beyond.
Tanya Jakimow is Associate Professor and ARC Future Fellow at the College of Asia Pacific, The Australian National University. Her current monograph is Susceptibility in Development: Micropolitics of local development in India and Indonesia (OUP, in-press). Her current project examines the pathways and barriers to women’s political representation in India and Indonesia