As Bengali prepares to elect a new government, incumbent Congress Trinamool and rival BJP are working hard to bring women together. Slideshow of Trinamools Bangla Niljer Meyeki Chay, which means that Bengali wants her daughter and her focus on welfare schemes like Swasthya Sathi, Rupashshree and Kanyashree shows how important women voters are to the chances of Mamata Banerjee staying as prime minister.
The support of women, who make up about half of the electorate, proved crucial to Mamata’s success in the last two state elections, and her party is once again making banks for them.
The focus of women on Mamatas’s election strategy can be assessed by the fact that she mentioned mothers and sisters no less than 23 times in a 34-minute speech she gave last month for one. Her party has nominated up to 50 women to run in the Assembly elections. In the 2019 general election, Trinamool had placed women in 41 percent of the seats, the most by any party. The party has also sought to connect with women by promising rations on the eve of rations and a basic monthly income support for 1.6 corporate families. The composition of Mamatas image during this campaign from Didi to Betty is also calibrated to increase the identification of women voters with her.
The exact factors that shape women’s political choices in questioning merit in Bengal. At a fundamental level, its approach to politics. The Mamata government has cultivated women as a voting bank, mainly through welfare schemes like Rupashree and Kanyashree, under which they receive direct cash assistance.
This has prompted rival parties to develop their own approaches to targeting women voters. BJP, which does not have a particularly powerful female leader, is using its formidable organization to contact women on the ground. Leading women of parties like Locket Chatterjee and Debasree Chaudhauri have been visiting the state since November to spread its message to women voters. A key component of this message is Trinamool’s accusation that it is leading an erosion of women’s safety.
Another component is opposing the withdrawal of Trinamools welfare spending by talking about Narendra Modi governments schemes such as Ujjawala Yojana of free LPG connections which they claim have significantly improved women’s lives.
How women vote in Bengal
Seeing how women have voted in previous elections in Bengal throws up interesting trends. A poll conducted after the 2014 Lok Sabha election by the Center for the Study of Developing Societies found that 42 percent of women had voted for Trinamool, a 12 percent increase from the 2009 election. The table below strongly suggests that the party that manages to withdraw women voters turn out mainly as winners. The change of power from the left to Trinamool after the shift of women voting preference between 2009 and 2014. Women voters who were strongly behind the left until 2007 abandoned it in 2014.
In the last assembly elections in 2016, BJP lags behind Trinamool wherever women’s participation was highest. On the other hand, Trinamool enjoyed tremendous support from women across the state. This explains BJP’s plan to undermine Trinamool’s goodwill among women and its emphasis on reaching female voters.
We see a similar trend in the way women voted in the general elections from 1996 to 2019. When the Left was in power in Bengal, it led a lot among women compared to national parties such as Congress and BJP. The support enjoyed by Mamata surpasses even the left when controlling the state.
However, the jump of the BJP vote share to 40.6 percent in the 2019 general election from 17 percent in 2014 certainly shows that the Hindutva party attracted a large group of women. This is a major challenge that Mamata faces this time around, to bring back the women voters who went to the BJP two years ago. It is very likely that the party that wins the most women will form the government in Bengal after May 2.
Talha Rashid is a research associate at the Center for Policy Research, New Delhi.
The graphs were made by the CPR researcher.
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