Categories Within Women Made Mamata Win, Not Entire Female Vote
Data shows how TMC won the women vote among Hindus as well.
What surprised many out-of-state journalists travelling across Bengal during the elections were the sheer number of women at all political rallies – across party lines. Women have always been a keen and influential electorate in West Bengal elections and the massive female turnout this election, in spite of the COVID-19 virus, was no exception to the rule.
As Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) swept the polls, it has been widely discussed how women formed the backbone of her stellar win. However, if one looks at survey data, it may be simplistic to say that women's vote as a whole swung the election for the TMC.
Mamata’s Women Vote & The BJP’s Attempt To Capture It
In Bengal, Mamata Banerjee has always caught the attention of women – sometimes positively, and sometimes negatively. Her image in her initial days of politics as an outspoken, unintimidated street fighter became an epithet in middle class Bengali households. Argumentative, talkative young girls would often be reprimanded as “the next Mamata in the neighbourhood.”
Over the years, as her political persona grew, her identity as a women – an independent, fierce one at that – began to have more appeal.
Even in 2021, travelling across Bengal, a common refrain amongst women – whether TMC supporters or BJP – was “Didi onek koshto koreche” – Didi has struggled a lot.
However, in the run up to the election and the days of the campaign, the BJP seemed aware of this appeal.
Violence against women in Bengal was therefore a common theme in the saffron party’s campaign pitch. The results of this show in the data.
On a whole, TMC's lead among women compared to men, reduced marginally compared to 2016 and 2019. According to data released by Lokniti-Centre for Study of Developing Societies, TMC had a 6 percentage point lead among women compared to men in both the 2016 Assembly elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This means that 6 percentage points more women voted for TMC as compared to men in West Bengal. This difference actually reduced to 4 percentage points in 2021. What led to the TMC's win was an overall increase in vote share across genders. For instance, the survey says that TMC's vote share among men increased from 41 percent to 46 percent and among women from 47 percent to 50 percent between the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the 2021 Assembly elections.
The significance of the female vote in the TMC's win emerges when we look at caste and income differences within women.
Adivasi, Upper Caste & Muslim Women Rally Behind Mamata, Dalit Women Prefer BJP
The CSDS survey shows that, Adivasi women, Upper Caste women and women from the poorer income brackets differed significantly from men in the same category in their support for the TMC.
In The Quint’s travel on the ground in the Adivasi dominated areas of Junglemahal, this difference between men and women voting preferences found resonance.
In the Raspal village in the Raipur constituency of the Bankura district, our team met Alladi Tudu, a Santhal woman, who said she’d vote differently from her husband.
Tudu, whose husband is a daily wage labourer, said that she “understood” that Didi wasn’t the problem, but those under her.
“We didn’t get money for our homes, and water problems continue in our area. But I understand that Didi has released the money. Those under her, in the panchayats, are not giving them to us”, she said.
“We have got food from the TMC. I will vote for those who put rice on my plate”, she added. “My husband doesn’t like how the TMC men in our area behave. That is why he votes BJP”.
Among Adivasis, the difference between the voting preference of men and women is the most stark. While BJP enjoyed an 18 percentage point lead over TMC among Adivasi men, Mamata Banerjee’s party had a 11 percentage point among Adivasi women.
The difference between men and women in different castes and communities is also telling. Except Muslims, BJP led among all the categories among men - Dalit, Adivasi, OBC and Upper Caste. However, among women, the TMC had a lead among Adivasi, Upper Caste and Muslim women with the BJP leading among Dalit and OBC women.
This disparity also exists in income groups. TMC enjoyed an 18 percentage point lead over BJP among poor women, 22 percentage points among lower class women but only 3 percentage points among middle class women. Among rich women, it was the BJP that had a 2 percentage point lead.
Kolkata is probably the best case study to exemplify this data point. A cursory chat with women of different income group across the city show that the poorer the women, the more likely they are to support Mamata.
Mamata’s image as a “massy” leader, as opposed to a “classy” leader has a role to play in this.
“We identify with Didi. She is one of us. She dresses like us and talks like us. She looks like she will understand our problems”, said Baishakhi Ghosh, a domestic worker in Kolkata.
Among Upper Castes, BJP had a 7 percentage point lead among men but TMC was ahead by 2 percentage points among women.
Among Dalits, however, there was a difference between men and women. BJP was ahead by 24 percent among Dalit men but 15 percent among Dalit women, indicating a comparatively more resilient performance by TMC in the latter.
The possible reason for this is because the lower caste communities, unlike the tribal communities in Bengal, identify more as Hindus than as Dalits or lower caste. The TMC’s mid-level corruption and the BJP’s Hindutva bid has helped their consolidation towards the saffron camp.
The sample applied for OBC voters too.
OBC women tilted towards BJP even more than men in that category. BJP had a 9 percentage point lead over TMC among OBC men but an 18 percentage point lead among OBC women.
Among Muslims, the difference between men and women is almost negligible, with TMC having a 67 percentage point lead over BJP among Muslim men and 68 percentage point lead among Muslim women.
This indicates that Muslims overwhelmingly preferred TMC irrespective of gender.
So the women vote factor was the strongest among those belonging to lower income groups as well as Adivasi, Upper Caste and to some extent Dalit women.
The TMC’s consolidation of women, even in the Hindu community groups, gave it the edge over the BJP, this election.
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