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Sunday, April 11, 2021

TMC, BJP go all out to woo women voters: Why her vote counts

Women voters comprise approximately half of the state's electorate — at 35.9 million. Maybe that's why all parties competing in Bengal are looking to woo the female vote bank.

The game is about to begin. In the upcoming Battle for Bengal, which is set to go to polls simultaneously with four other Indian states this April, garnering the women voters’ attention seems to be of utmost priority of both the All India Trinamool Congress, the current ruling party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is eager to bring in the Eastern state under their umbrella. This tactic has a lot of significance while other possible strategies are being pursued alongside. The TMC and BJP are going all out to woo women voters, but why does her vote count?

It is not just because of their numerical significance that is making all political parties queue up for the assembly elections in Bengal, but because of the evident increase in proclivity of women to turn up for the vote. For instance, in Bihar, which went to the polls most recently in October-November 2020, more women — precisely 59.7 per cent turned out to vote compared to men — 54.7 per cent. And so it is that the ruling TMC, its primary challenger BJP, and even the Congress have all activated their women’s wings for the upcoming polls. Each of them is busy taking down the other’s record on issues such as women’s safety and struggling to highlight what they have done for women’s welfare in the state and across the country. Here’s why her vote counts the most for the upcoming assembly polls in Bengal.

TMC, BJP go all out to woo women voters
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee | Source: PTI

Women voters comprise approximately half of the state’s electorate — at 35.9 million. They have come a long way from the days when they were terrorised to keep their men indoors on election day when the Left was in power. They are now more vocal against injustices and demanding their rights from whoever’s in the ruling seat. They can often be seen speaking up for themselves at Mamata Banerjee’s rallies and shouting out their grievances in the middle of the chief minister’s speeches. To which, the incumbent chief minister pays heed to nowadays as this vote bank is crucial.

Why do the women vote count?

Indeed, the 2019 Lok Sabha election was a timely wake-up call for Didi, who found the ruling party at the centre breathing down her neck, with 18 seats, just four less than the TMC’s 22, and a significant vote share of 40 per cent, merely three percentage points less than that of the TMC’s. Not only is the BJP ripping off her charm, but there’s also a third contender, the Congress-Left combine, which threatens to eat off her plate of support in committed vote banks. Hence the desperation and dedication to keep everyone happy. Especially the women voters, whose contribution Prime Minister Narendra Modi specifically acknowledged in the BJP’s success in the neighbouring state of Bihar. In his victory speech after the Bihar results, the prime minister had lauded the women as the party’s silent voters’, saying, “The echo of these ‘silent voters’ must be ringing in everyone’s ears today.” He had said that the reason behind their support was mostly because of the women-centric schemes of his government, alongwith, of course, the Nitish Kumar state government’s steadfast focus on this constituency, in policies such as significant reservation for women in local bodies and empowering them through self-help groups.

TMC, BJP go all out to woo women voters: Why her vote counts
Why women voters are crucial | Source: PTI

The female vote bank can quite easily turn into a disadvantage for the BJP as about 35 million female voters of Bengal can play a huge role in driving the elections in a completely different direction. A female chief minister has been ruling the state of West Bengal for the past decade and she is well aware of the importance of female voters during such crucial elections. Even though the BJP managed to win 18 seats in the 2019 general election, Mamata Banerjee gave 40 per cent of the party’s seats to female candidates of the Trinamool Congress. Since the performance of her party was comparatively poor in the previous election, she launched a new wing of the TMC, the ‘Banga Janani Bahini’. Now the members of this female brigade go door-to-door to explain the chief minister’s policies and also take to the streets as per the requirement. Currently, Trinamool has nine female MPs in the Lok Sabha. They are often given greater opportunity to speak. The speech of first-time MP Mahua Moitra on the presidential address during the budget session of Parliament is a good example of Didi’s strategy to put forward the importance of women representation in her party. The TMC gave the opportunity to Mahua instead of a senior member like Saugata Roy at a very crucial point. Anyway, Mamata has been known for providing candidature to women from the gram panchayat to the country’s largest panchayat. She has tried very hard in her tenure to strengthen this specific vote bank by providing maternity childcare leave, besides various other schemes like the Kanyashree Prakalpa, Sabuj Sathi, Swastha Sathi health card and more.

What is the BJP’s counter tactic to woo women voters of Bengal?

As part of its counter-strategy this election, the BJP is taking on the TMC’s record on the safety of women, alleged discrimination in Amphan relief, corruption in the government and the party’s terror tactics. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, women in rural Bengal had come out in large numbers to drive away TMC hooligans with the help of their kitchen utensils. A few months ago, the BJP’s Mahila Morcha took out a rally carrying broomsticks to protest discrimination in Amphan relief distribution and compensation by the state’s ruling party. Following all of this, the TMC in its counter attack raised its voice in Bengal over the rape of a Dalit woman in Hathras. While the BJP launched ‘Aar Noi Mahilader Asuraksha’, a door-to-door campaign to inform women in Bengal how unsafe their state had become for Aat-theke-Aashi (eight to 80)/ Teen-theke-tirashi (three to 83). “We are trying to tell women with data and statistics that crime against women and trafficking is very high, despite the state having a woman chief minister. Our chief minister is very prompt in raising an alarm whenever any incident of crime against women takes place in any other state. But when it happens in West Bengal, there is not even a strong word nor action against the culprits,” junior Union minister of state for woman and child development Debasree Chaudhri had said.

Now, it’s time to wait and see what the women voters decide. Nonetheless, like in Bihar, the Bengal elections should help empower women voters in the political arena.

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