A bruised and ailing 82-year-old woman has become the face of tussle between the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the BJP over the state’s 49 per cent women voters.
The BJP widely circulated the bruised and swollen face of the woman on social media and also launched a poster campaign to punch a hole on the TMC’s latest catchphrase, “Bangla nijer meyekei chay (Bengal wants its own daughter).”
Eyeing the state’s 3.15 crore women voters, the TMC launched the slogan, projecting its leader Mamata Banerjee as the daughter of Bengal.
Several posters and hoardings depicting the slogan with Banerjee’s picture came up across the state, adding another dimension to identity politics.
In one of the posters, images of several BJP leaders from outside the state, including Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, are put up against an image of the TMC supremo. The message it tries to convey is that Bengal’s own daughter has been fighting a lone battle against “outsiders.”
Circulating pictures of the woman’s swollen face, the BJP retorted: “People will not forgive those who assaulted Bengal’s daughter” and “Is she not a daughter of Bengal?”
The BJP alleges that the woman and her son, who is a worker of the saffron party, were assaulted by TMC supporters in North 24 Parganas district’s Nimta area in the wee hours of Saturday (February 27). Since then the BJP leaders are making a beeline at her residence and also holding protests over the incident.
“Mamata Banerjee claims to be the daughter of Bengal but there is no respect and security for women in her state,” alleged Agnimitra Paul, state president of the BJP’s mahila morcha (women front).
Union minister, Smriti Irani, shared a video of the woman and tweeted, “Each day TMC stoops to a new low. Political scores aside, this is beyond one’s comprehension. Pain and agony of this ‘Ma’ will be answered by ‘Manush’ of West Bengal; in the forthcoming elections ‘Mati’ of Bengal will be free of TMC’s tyranny.”
The National Commission for Women (NCW) also took cognizance of the incident.
The TMC, however, rubbished the BJP’s allegation as “fake news” claiming that no TMC worker assaulted the woman.
Education minister, Partha Chatterjee, said the woman was a victim of a family feud. He also shared a video on Twitter in which a man identified himself as the grandson of the woman denied any assault on her.
“There is no truth in this (allegation of assault). My grandmother is bedridden for three years. When I heard about the alleged assault I went to her house (to inquire about the incident). Nobody assaulted my grandmother,” the man identified as Gobinda Majumdar was heard saying in the video.
The octogenarian woman, however, told the media that she and her son were beaten up by TMC “goons.”
Police said they were investigating the incident and looking into all angles, including political rivalry and family dispute.
The TMC, along with the family feud theory, also claimed that the woman was beaten up by BJP’s goons.
“@BJP4Bengal won’t even spare a bed-ridden senior citizen for their filthy politics. In reality, the lady was tortured by BJP goons and the blame was conveniently shifted to Trinamool. But the truth cannot be suppressed!” the TMC tweeted from its official handle.
Beyond this blame game, the octogenarian woman has become a pawn in the larger fight to garner women votes.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, women voters outnumbered their male counterparts in casting votes with a turnover of 81.7 per cent.
Mamata Banerjee, who happens to be the only woman Chief Minister in the country, enjoys a large following among the women.
To her credit, she also consciously nurtured the constituency by rolling out several welfare schemes for the women such as ‘Rupashree’ and ‘Kanyashree’.
Besides, smart cards for the ‘Swasthya Sathi’ health insurance scheme or the digital ration cards for the ‘Khadya Saathi’ food scheme are issued only in the name of the woman head of a family.
Even in giving representation to women in elected bodies, the TMC has an impressive track record.
It had given nominations to 17 women candidates in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, compared to the BJP’s five. During the 2016 assembly elections, the TMC had fielded 45 women candidates as against 31 by the BJP.
The BJP, however, succeeded in cornering a sizeable portion of women votes during the last Lok Sabha elections prompting the TMC to launch ‘Banga Janani Bahini’, a women volunteer corps under the chairpersonship of party MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar. The female brigade goes door-to-door explaining the state government’s policies and schemes.
A common theme of their outreach programme is to project the BJP as anti-women highlighting atrocities against women in BJP-ruled states and amplifying alleged anti-women statements of the BJP leaders.
For instance, when Union minister Babul Supriyo made a gaffe while trying to take a dig at TMC’s slogan ‘Bangla Nijer Meyekei Chay’, the ‘Banga Janani Bahini’ built up a campaign over his misogynistic remark.
“Beti padaya dhan hoti hai, iss bar vida kar denge (A daughter is someone else’s wealth, this time we will send her off)”, Supriyo tweeted to counter the TMC’s slogan.
Realising the importance of countering the Trinamool’s women centric narrative, the BJP has decided to turn the TMC’s campaign on its head.
Out of the 17.5 million houses in West Bengal, only 900,000 have piped water, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed at a public rally in Hooghly last month to underscore that the ruling TMC is doing injustice to ‘Bengal Ki Beti’.
The party also engaged in a poster war with the TMC, releasing a poster featuring nine of its prominent women leaders. It carries the tag line: “Bangla tar meyekei chay, pishi ke noy” (Bengal wants its own daughter and not aunt).
The BJP refers to Banerjee as “aunt”, alluding to her controversial nephew Abhishek Banerjee.
In this battle of narratives, the BJP could not have found a better protagonist than an elderly woman victim with a bruised and swollen face.