A little highlighted fact about the BJP in West Bengal is that it lacks woman power when compared to Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress.
The saffron brigade realised this shortcoming recently but it is finding it difficult to overcome this hurdle.
What many analysts have failed to appreciate is that in politically vibrant West Bengal, which has lone woman chief minister of India, the fairer gender play a crucial role in the politics, especially after the advent to power of Mamata Banerjee in 2011.
Similar was the case in Tamil Nadu during the chief ministership of J Jayalalithaa, who died on December 5, 2016.
In both these states the TMC and AIADMK used to get a big percentage of women votes. Tamil Nadu is going to election for the first time after the death of Jayalalithaa. Thus, it is difficult to predict as to how much hold the AIADMK still have on women electorate—and that too after the virtual withdrawal of V K Sasikala, the former general secretary of the party, from the scene.
But in the eastern state of India the wounded royal Bengal Tigress appears to be more devastating this time.
The muscular hard power of the Bharatiya Janata Party is finding it difficult to prevail over the soft power of Bengal—that is its art, culture, language and women participation in the society as well as the politics.
While the saffron party can bring to streets thousands of its supporters daily, it certainly lacks the quality to match Mamata’s calibre to mobilise much larger number of women at the drop of a hat.
She displayed this talent on March 7 and 8 in Siliguri and Kolkata respectively during the protest march against the huge hike in prices of LPG cylinders, petrol and diesel.
The March 8 foot-march incidentally coincided with the International Women’s Day. Mind it Mamata came to power on the slogan of Ma, Mati, Manush (Mother, Motherland and Human Being).
On the International Women’s Day she got an opportunity to expose the deplorable state of women in the BJP-ruled states and claimed 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.
This is in total contrast to the BJP which 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.
The problem with the BJP is that it did not realise that gross under-representation to women can be an election issue. That is why it failed to utilise the 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 name of Debasree is hardly heard in the BJP’s scheme of things.
Instead, it is pressing into service another Union minister and MP from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, Smriti Irani. What the saffron party has failed to acknowledge is that West Bengal 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.
The irony is that 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.
If there is no Mamata like personality in the BJP even Debasree and Locket could not get the chance to become Mahua Moitra or Nusrat Jehan or anyone else in the TMC camp.
West Bengal watchers are of the view that if the BJP is hopeful of defeating Mamata without giving due representation to women it is living in the world of dream.
Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views expressed are personal.