Special Correspondent/ TLT
Kolkata: Between Ashol Poriborton and Ma, Maati aar Maanush, the stakes are very high for this years elections in the state of West Bengal. From high pitched campaigning by big guns of the BJP to Mamata hitting the streets on a wheelchair with thousands behind her, the fight is only heating up by the day. The clash this time gets even more interesting with Didi facing her one time close aide Suvendu Adhikari who knows the nuts and bolts of the TMC well. Mamata will also now face a shrill campaign around her averments on Jai shree Ram chants. For her it is more of Jai Bangla and Jai Ma Durga. Only recently a delegation has also raised doubts on the details that Mamata furnished on her nomination. But overall as a streetfighter and a formidable force in the politics of West Bengal, there is consensus on the fact that the BJP in West Bengal lacks woman power when compared to Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress. While the BJP has thrown their best star campaigners in the ring, even the saffon force has realised that this shortcoming will need to be overcome.
A close look at the body politic of West Bengal shows that not only does West Bengal represent a state that has a lone woman chief minister in India, it also has seen considerable clout of the fairer sex in the past several years eversince TMC rode to power in 2011. Similar was the case in Tamil Nadu during the chief ministership of J Jayalalithaa, who died on December 5, 2016. Not just the TMC but even the AIADMK has shown its star woman power in the past. Both enjoyed a large woman votebase in the past. Mamata who enjoys the distinction of toppling the 34 year old Left regime, is proving to be an untameable party with the muscular power of the BJP not being able to prevail over the soft power of Bengal which is reflective in its art, culture, language and women participation across streams.
Pink is power
Despite the fiercer force that the saffron fore represents, analysts widely point out that they lack the quality to match Mamata’s calibre to mobilise a bigger band of women at the drop of a hat. Mamata’s flair to make this happen was clearly visible when she upped the ante against the government on March 7 and 8 in Siliguri and Kolkata during the protest march against the huge hike in prices of LPG cylinders, petrol and diesel.
Numbers do the talking
Her March 8 rising coincided with the International Women’s Dayin sync with her slogan of Ma, Maati aar Manush. Mamata herself has quoted numbers saying that 41 per cent of TMC MPs in the Lok Sabha are women, which is highest-ever for any party in India’s history. At present nine out of 22 Trinamool Congress MPs are women. Compare that to BJP and you find the contrast. BJP has only two MPs from West Bengal, where it won 18 seats in 2019 parliamentary election. Even in 2014 Lok Sabha polls 11 out of 34 elected TMC MPs were women, which account to about 32.5 per cent.
Gross under representation of women irks
In that women representation and reservation debate the overall point that is very often heard is – BJP did not realise that gross under-representation to women can be an election issue. The BJP has also failed to fully utilize service of two of its women MPs: Debasree Chaudhary, who is minister of state for woman and child development in the Modi cabinet, and Locket Chatterjee.
The only visible face in the Modi cabinet on the woman front has been Union minister and MP from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, Smriti Irani. The saffron party failed to encash Bengal given it is not a part of the Hindi-belt where Irani, with an acting background, could be a hit. The latter is not very familiar with the Bangla language and even the art and culture of the state.
Out of the two MPs, Locket Chatterjee has been given ticket to contest the assembly election. Another prominent woman who got the party ticket is Bharati Ghosh, former police officer. In the absence of strong woman-candidates the saffron party gave ticket to a couple of women film personalities.
The Trinamool Congress has given ticket to 50 women in 291 constituencies it is contesting. This may certainly be not as high as in the last Lok Sabha poll where it fielded 17 women in total 42 constituencies. Curiously, this too stands at 41 per cent. Even Debasree and Locket could not get the chance to become Mahua Moitra or Nusrat Jehan or anyone else in the TMC camp. For poll watchers the woman factor could very well turn the tide against the BJP.