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TMC, BJP tussle to win over women voters in Bengal

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Kolkata, Jan 01: The TMC and the BJP are tussling to win over women voters, who comprise 49 per cent of poll- bound West Bengal''s draft electorate, by highlighting issues concerning them.

JP Nadda and Mamata Banerjee

Both the BJP and the TMC are accusing each other of failing to ensure women''s safety and are showcasing the developmental schemes launched for them by the two parties'' respective governments at the Centre and the state.

Elections to the 294-member West Bengal assembly are due in April-May this year. Of the 7.18 crore voters in the state, 3.15 crore are women, a number neither party can ignore.

This renewed focus on women voters comes in the backdrop of statistics showing that women had swung the Bihar assembly election in the NDA''s favour.

While the women voters were firmly behind Mamata Banerjee-led TMC, many of their loyalties shifted towards the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, prompting the ruling party in the state to launch initiatives to woo them back.

TMC vs BJP: Why the contest is wide open in West Bengal

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has appointed ''Bongo Janani'', the party''s apolitical front formed after the TMC''s drubbing in the 2019 elections, to reach out to women by highlighting the developmental schemes of her government and "rise in crimes against women" in BJP-ruled states.

"The TMC government, in the last 10 years of its rule in West Bengal, has implemented several globally-acclaimed schemes like Kanyashree which have benefited women and girls. We don''t need a certificate from the BJP on what we have done to ensure women''s safety," Women and Child Development Minister and Bongo Janani general secretary Sashi Panja said.

Apart from criticising the BJP for its "lackadaisical efforts" in tackling women issues, the Bongo Janani''s outreach campaign highlights the TMC government''s women-centric initiatives like the Swasthya Sathi health scheme and Rupashree direct cash transfer scheme to prevent child marriage.

Bongo Janani was formed to create an atmosphere for a social movement against heinous crimes against women like the Hathras rape-murder incident in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh and reach out to women who do not want to directly associate with any political outfit, TMC sources said.

"The BJP should be the last outfit to speak about women''s safety in the country. The condition of women in states ruled by the saffron party speaks loud," senior TMC leader and MP Saugata Roy said.

Another senior TMC leader, who wished to remain anonymous, said a motive behind forming Bongo Janani was to regain the party''s lost ground among women after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Women of the state remained solidly behind the Left till 2006-07, when the anti-land acquisition movements in Singur and Nandigram tilted their support towards Mamata Banerjee.

Since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, most women voted for Banerjee. While some crimes against women dented her support base among urban women voters, her rural base remained intact till the BJP entered the state''s political scene.

The BJP emerged as the prime challenger to the Trinamool Congress in the 2019 elections, bagging 18 seats, four less than the TMC''s tally out of 42 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state.

The saffron party pocketed a large chunk of the women''s vote share, sources said.

It is now targeting the TMC over "increasing incidents of rape" and "rising number of women trafficking from north Bengal and tribal areas".

"The rise in rape and other crimes against women shows that no woman is safe in West Bengal. Compensation to rape survivors is horrific. Is the TMC government trying to buy a woman''s honour? It has failed to ensure women''s safety," State BJP Mahila Morcha chief Agnimitra Paul told PTI.

The National Commission for Women has also slammed the state police for alleged inaction over complaints of atrocities against women.

The BJP is also highlighting the Centre''s initiatives like Ujjwala scheme, aimed at providing LPG connection to women of BPL families, the construction of toilets under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and health cover to families under the Ayushman Bharat scheme.

"The TMC government did not implement Ayushman Bharat for political reasons. Women have got the benefits of Ujjwala scheme and Swachh Bharat," Paul said.

The BJP focuses on special rallies by Mahila Morcha workers at the booth-level and ensures that there is at least a woman member in every mandal and booth committee, party sources said.

The TMC had fielded 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 opposed to the saffron party''s 31.

If women voters number more than 50 per cent of the electorate in the final voter list expected to be released this month, West Bengal will be the fourth state after Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to have such a record.

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