#women and the vote

How Mamata’s One-Woman Show Beckoned Superlative Victory For Bengal’s Female Voter

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Mamata Banerjee Bengal victory: In what shaped up to be a tough, ruthless battle for the Bengal turf between two unrelenting oppositions drawn over eight long phases, female power has reigned supreme. Mamata Banerjee, for a third time, will become the Chief Minister of her home state, beckoning a grand win for the Trinamool Congress (TMC) over the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) male might.

Even amid the ravages of election-induced violence and coronavirus surge, the fight for administration in the east was fiery and one of its kind among its other poll-bound counterparts. All eyes were here.

Not only because the saffron party beefed itself up exceptionally for Bengal more than any other state, most notably with Prime Minister Narendra Modi distinctly stepping into the battlefield to get his hands dirty, which validated the obvious importance of control here. But also because the khela was ultimately a showdown between male and female leadership. And in a lot of ways, singularly so.

Evidently, bangla nijer meye ke chai. 

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Mamata Banerjee Bengal victory indicates determined female power

Mamata Banerjee’s call about ‘Bengal’s need for its own daughter’ echoed confidence in her retention power but simultaneously the void in Indian politics that reflects an abysmal record of women making top decisions in politics. Her own party fielded an empowering but still lacking 17 percent women this time and 41 percent in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, making TMC one of the front faces of women in politics. What about the rest of the political spectrum?

With Banerjee standing up, successfully now, to the highest powers that be in the country and leading the way on gender representation, perhaps a positive turn of events can be anticipated on that front across the board.

The 66-year-old has maintained a stronghold in Bengal, initially predominantly by way of Nandigram, since 2011 when she impressively ended the Communist Party’s three-decade rule. After her former aide Suvendhu Adhikari defected to the opposition, Banerjee surcharged once again towards Nandigram, guns blazing, this time to face up against the Adhikari family fortress in the constituency.

She lost after a thrilling result flip. But Nandigram had anyway never been a walkover, indicated even at the outset by Adhikari’s dominating early vote overtake.

Mamata Banerjee Bengal Victory Is As Symbolic Of Female Leadership As It Is Of Female Franchise.

Usual ingredients of election formulae were inevitably present: the optics, the celebrity weight, the mudslinging, the vows. Albeit exaggerated, because Bengal evolved into a matter of prestige for both contenders. Banerjee’s foot-cast and wheelchair proved to have symbolic recall value almost as strong as Modi’s Tagore illusion. For her suggestions of a Modi-Shah-Election Commission tripartite, there were the BJP’s ever-present predictions of an impending, sour TMC loss. For her ‘Bengal’s daughter’ warcry, there was Adhikari’s ‘Nandigram’s son’ claim.

Congress, of course, was an absent opposition that had long conceded defeat in Bengal.

Needless to say, there was immense needless misogyny too, manufactured at the highest seats of power no less. Any sexist room left after BJP Bengal President Dilip Ghosh’s outrageous remarks about Banerjee in Bermuda shorts was filled by Modi himself with his crass, catcall-like chorus of didiiiii… o didiiii. 

This is not to say that Banerjee did not falter. From being pulled up by the EC for her alleged communal vote appeal to launching allegations against security forces, a lot that came out of her came under scrutiny. But if we’re viewing the Bengal election through those binoculars, then the lens looking out at the BJP is aggressively muddier.

Banerjee’s victory is momentous not just for the seat it has saved, but also for the female electorate that made it possible.

Catering to the female electorate wasn’t only just a campaign strategy in Bengal. For the BJP eyeing an inaugurative rule, perhaps it was. We shall never conclusively know, at least for another five years. But for Banerjee, it has been an organic part of governance for over a decade. The TMC supremo has understood, valued and actively provided for women through the duration of her previous two terms and, for continuity of power, will likely keep the formula up for her upcoming term too.

The Kanyashree, Rupashree and Sabooj Sathi schemes are just three of the 200-strong schemes directed at uplifting and empowering women that are in effect under Banerjee. Measures related to income, insurance, domestic pay, employment and maternity benefits – all fronts have been granted attention during her tenure.

And so, in Bengal, the woman as much the woman voter is of serious consequence. Comprising almost half of the electorate – at 48.71 percent – it is clear that franchise is held in high regard among the women of Bengal. As of May 2, it all seems to have paid off as much for the female voter of Bengal – empowered, self-assured, independent – as it has for Banerjee herself, who walks to her governing seat a third time.

Views expressed are the author’s own.