Rise in Women Candidates, But Where Are Women’s Issues?

By Manjira Majumdar

Politics in Bengal under Mamata Banerjee just got a little saccharine sweet. It appears only on the face of it.

With All India Trinamool Congress or AITMC or simply TMC MP, Moon Moon Sen, the daughter of legendary actress Suchitra Sen, today taking on Babul Supriyo of BJP from Asansol, it is less about issues and more about a cosy club of celebs. It is as if issues be damned, we are here to only maximise votes. When Ms Sen defeated Basudev Acharya in Bankura district in 2014, it created ripples because in 1980, Acharya, an old CPM guard was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time and re-elected from the same constituency in 1984, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009 – a record  8 times – before being defeated by Ms Sen in 2014.     

“Babul is such a sweet, young boy (baccha chele), I am good friends with his family, ” Ms Sen is repeating in her campaign trails as shown on NDTV channel on April 2 and covered extensively by all leading Indian television channels subsequently. It is not clear whether Ms Sen is equating him with political novice because Babul is the sitting MP from Asansol and a strong critic of Mamata Banerjee. He has even penned a hilarious song about the CM, which the Election Commission is scrutinising, while mouthing sweet things about his Moon Moon didi. Ms Sen hopes to repeat her vote garnering abilities as she made it clear to the Bengali TV channel ABP Ananda that she is here to win votes and votes only. 

But, what women’s issues has she raised until now?

As for now, the race is to maximise votes in Bengal. Issues, particularly pertaining to women empowerment, besides the usual platitudes, are not very clear or specific. At least in the last elections, triple talaq was an issue. Even manifestos are no longer sacred.    

However, the number of women candidates from Bengal has gone up significantly since the last elections, which saw 80 per cent of voting by women and election of several women MPs. According to a report in The Hindu, on May 201, 2014, “West Bengal has nearly doubled with the electorate sending 12 of them to Parliament. This is second only to Uttar Pradesh, which has 13 MPs. Of the 543 MPs across the country, only 62 are women, and West Bengal sends more than 19 per cent of them. The 12 women MPs include 11 from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and one from the Congress. The TMC is second to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in sending the highest number of women MPs.”

Read the detailed report for more data here https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/number-of-women-mps-from-bengal-doubled/article6028314.ece

TMC is contesting in all 42 seats. Of  these, 17 are women candidates. The person to look out for is ex-investment banker turned MLA from Karimpur Nadia district, Mahua Maitra. She is contesting from Krishnanagar, the headquarters of the same district. Ms Maitra, an alumna from Mount Holyoke, is extremely articulate, and if elected to Parliament, one can expect some good debating skills, something which MPs are increasingly losing over the years. 

 

Mahua Moitra

Investment banker turned politician Mahua Moitra.  Source:  Catch News

 

Read about her in Times of India dated April 7, 2019: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/elections/lok-sabha-elections-2019/west-bengal/news/for-me-the-buck-stops-with-myself-says-mahua-moitra/articleshow/68758637.cms?

Compared to the last time, the share of women candidates has jumped to 41 per cent from 35 per cent from TMC alone including two new young female actors. Glam queen Nusrat Jahan is contesting from a very sensitive border area of Basirhat, once a stronghold of CPI, and Mimi Chakraborty, who models for a well-known hair oil brand, when not acting in pure commercial cinema. She joins a stellar list of names such as Somnath Chatterjee, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, Sugata Bose, (grand nephew of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose) and Mamata Banerjee, who had earlier represented various parties in this very critical constituency. Shatabdi Roy, another female actor, who is younger than Ms Sen and older than Ms Jahan and Ms Chakraborty, is re-contesting from Birbhum district. There are TMC women from other backgrounds than the entertainment industry; Mala Roy from Kolkata (South), a well-known political face, who was elected to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation earlier, Mausam Noor of Malda (north), who was the Congress MP from here before crossing over to TMC recently.

 

Nusrat Jahan Mimi Chakraborty 2

Nusrat Jahan, Mimi Chakraborty, Sayantika Banerjee at the premiere of a Bengali movie in Kolkata.  Source:  gomolo.com

 

BJP, on the other hand, which is contesting from 28 seats, has another female actor Rupa Ganguly as one of its members. She was nominated to the Rajya Sabha when Navjot Singh Sidhu resigned in 2016 so she is not in the fray but this time. BJP is fielding another female actor, Locket Chatterji from Hooghly district. The other women contesting with the BJP ticket are Deboshree Choudhury, Sreerupa Mitra Choudhury and Bharati Ghosh, an ex-cop and once close to CM Mamata Banerjee in addition to Locket Chatterjee. In Jangipur Murshidabad, with a sizeable Muslim population, Ms Mahfuza Khatun is the BJP candidate pitted against Abhijit Mukherjee, congress candidate and son of Pranab Mukherjee. 

Among the total 42 Parliamentary seats, the Left is going with 25 seats while Congress is sticking to 17 seats. The CPM has announced 4 women candidates while Deepa Das Munshi from Raiganj is a well-known face in the Congress.

But this time Bengal politics is not poised so much as to who is pitted against whom but a clear battle between TMC and BJP. To say it is an ideological battle will not be true to the whole picture.

The CPM and Congress have been reduced to side players. As Times of India noted in its editorial -Battleground Bengal -on April 4, “BJP is trying hard to play the anti-Bangladeshi migrant card” among Hindu voters and nudge TMC out of its comfort zone,  terming the incumbent CM as a “speedbreaker” to development, However, feisty Mamata Banerjee is a tough fighter for nothing. She even scheduled her speeches in a manner that she addressed rallies just after Narendra Modi whom she termed “expiry babu” left; to enable her to have the last word and save her State from divisive forces.

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