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The ‘silent voter’ and minority conundrum: Mamata Banerjee’s traditional vote bank could turn the tide against her

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West Bengal Polls Women Minority VotersWest Bengal Polls Women Minority VotersWest Bengal Election 2021: There are many seats including in Kolkata, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Hooghly and Howrah where women voters have outnumbered men.

With West Bengal polls heading towards culmination, political strategists may be involved in finding the right political math behind the high voter turnout which the BJP has claimed to be benefitting. In Bengal, there are 3,58,45,115 male voters and 3,40,45,313 female voters. The women voters constitute 48.71 per cent of the total 6,98,91,751 voters. Just like Bihar where women voters have been playing a key role in getting Nitish Kumar back to power, Mamata Banerjee has been banking on women and Muslim voters for her return as Chief Minister for the third straight term. Traditionally, a high voter turnout has mostly resulted in sitting CMs losing the chair.

There are many seats including in Kolkata, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Hooghly and Howrah where women voters have outnumbered men. If we talk about 44 seats of Phase-IV only, there were 11 constituencies where women voters are more than their male counterparts. In six of these – Sonarpur Dakshin, Sonarpur Uttar, Jadavpur, Tollygunj, Behala Uttar and Behala Dakshin, the women voters have an edge over the male. Of these 11 constituencies, the total number of female voters are 15,70,392 while that of the male is 15,66,161.

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The story is not different in other constituencies where the women voters are either nearly at par with the men or slightly lower in number but play a decisive role. While the TMC has come out with ‘Bangla Nijer Meyeke Chai’ (Bengal wants its daughter) slogan to counter the BJP and cash on its ‘outsider’ plank, the party admits it is up against a formidable force. The saffron party has promised many measures including free transportation and reservation in government jobs to lure women voters. Notably, the SCs/STs voters, which have been voting dominantly for the BJP, also include women.

The lack of jobs and industries have forced many people, especially men, of Bengal to visit Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in search of a livelihood. The BJP’s promise to bring MSMEs and industries to West Bengal is being seen as a hope by women voters as the men won’t have to leave the state in search of employment.

Then there are Muslim voters who account for 27 per cent of the population. Traditionally, they had supported the Left. But after 2011, they have largely been voting unitedly for the TMC. The BJP has accused the TMC of appeasement politics that was also accepted by the TMC’s poll strategist Prashant Kishor in a recent Clubhouse discussion. According to reports, of the 211 seats that the TMC won in 2016, 98 seats went to the TMC largely because of the Muslim voters. This time, the TMC is facing a triangular contest in terms of the Muslim vote bank. The Congress is contesting the polls in alliance with the CPIM-M and Abbas Siddiqui-led ISF. The entry of debutant AIMIM led by Asaduddin Owaisi has forced Mamata Banerjee to issue a communal appeal to the minority to vote unitedly for the TMC. The Chief Minister is also aware of the division of minority votes along religious lines among the ISF, AIMIM and the TMC. Even a 5 per cent swing in the Muslim vote bank along with a shift in women’s voting pattern may significantly dent Banerjee’s dream of retaining power in the state, ultimately benefitting the BJP, which is said to have polarised the election on the lines of Hindutva.

As the state votes for the remaining four phases in the next two weeks, all eyes are on the exit polls on April 29 and the counting day May 2.

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