West Bengal Elections — What Have Women Taught the BJP?
The victory of TMC led by Mamata Bannerjee in the 2021 West Bengal assembly polls was a landmark moment that will be remembered in history. The massive mandate with which she defeated the country’s biggest political party at the moment, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been the subject of much analysis and speculation. The formidable power of BJP owing to its campaigns led by the country’s Prime Minister and Union Home Ministers themselves, tied in with its larger polarising ideology, seemed to have no impact on West Bengal. According to surveys, the vote share of BJP dropped from 40% to 37%, and that of TMC escalated from 40% to 48%. This massive difference was unprecedented and attributed to multiple factors.
Perhaps one of the most compelling factors was the role women played as an electoral constituency. At the very outset, it is important to mention that in the recent past, no state or union territory has been led by a woman except WB, especially for two consecutive terms in a row. The underrepresentation of women in India’s political landscape is not new. This is a seemingly inherent factor that has been normalized and that has continued ever since India saw independence. However, interestingly in WB there has been a history of women exercising their suffrage that started with the mobilizing of women for various mass movements by the Left front since the 1980’s. That year especially, women played a pivotal role in the electoral results. In light of this, the ascendancy of Banerjee in the recent past kindled the political aspirations of women, something that BJP and its predominantly male ministers could not do. To witness Mamata Bannerjee powerfully lead a state for two consecutive years, spoke to the women in WB in more ways than one.
According to data from the National Election Studies (NES), the vote share of BJP has been marginally lower among women in comparison with men in the last few Lok Sabha elections. In the WB assembly polls this year too, there seemed to be no improvement. While the Modi government has introduced schemes such as “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” and “Ujjwala Yojana” to address gender in some way in its policies, it remains to see if this will be enough to ameliorate its larger gender-gap issue. Clearly, it had no influence in WB. On the other hand, Banerjee has attempted several adjustments in WB in favour of women welfare and political representation even at the grassroot level, which experts argue have largely contributed to her popularity and consequent win.
Women in WB have strong political inclinations. And Banerjee knew exactly how to play on this. BJP’s campaign was largely replete with little to no representation of women, misogynistic statements by the ministers, and not enough welfare schemes to compensate for it. Many perceived the phrase “Didi-o-Didi” used by the ministers to address Banerjee, to mimic a tone that is similar to the men who harass women on the streets. Instead of providing a blueprint on how best to go about state policies on real issues such as poverty and unemployment, the BJP played out its typical polarising ideologies and misogynistic sentiments over and over again. This did not resonate with the bengali women and with Bengal in general. What they had been hearing all along was the uproar of “Maa, Maati, Manush” ( mother, motherland, people), one of TMC’s core slogans elucidating the importance of respecting and representing women. For BJP to come and overhaul the very essence of this slogan, was not something the women of Bengal were willing to see.
All in all, the women taught BJP a lesson in the importance of political strategy and the fact that representation matters. Brazen disregard for women in all spheres has a definite impact and the loss of BJP is a clear example. One of the key takeaways from the WB assembly polls is the changing role of the female electoral constituency — one that cannot be undermined.