Kolkata: The Left Front, which has been pushing for the reservation of one- third of the seats in Parliament for women, has fielded only two women out of 42 candidates in West Bengal for the Lok Sabha elections.
In 2004, the Left Front had fielded five women from the state, known as a staunch Leftist bastion, and three of them won. But this time, it has retained only two of the three women who had won in 2004.
Both candidates—Jyotirmoyee Sikdar and Sushmita Bauri—are from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, the Left Front’s largest constituent, which will be fighting 32 out of 42 seats in the state.
It’s striking because the CPM has at least 30,000 woman members in West Bengal, as against 300,000 men, and at the gram panchayat, or village council, level, around 40% of the Left Front’s representatives in the state are women, according to Shyamali Gupta, general secretary of the CPM’s women’s wing Ganatantrik Mahila Samity.
The CPM and its partners have championed a constitutional amendment Bill seeking to set apart 33% of the seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies for women. Lack of political consensus has held up the legislation for several years.
In West Bengal, out of the Left Front’s 233 legislators in the state assembly, 28 are women—25 of them are from the CPM alone.
Asked why the Left Front fielded as few as two women for the coming Lok Sabha polls, Shyamal Chakraborty, a CPM leader and member of the Rajya Sabha, said, “Each seat matters, so we had to be cautious with candidate selection. We fielded candidates who could win elections for us.”
Although Chakraborty refused to elaborate, other leaders of the CPM said on condition of anonymity that the Left Front couldn’t find enough suitable women candidates to contest Lok Sabha seats. “A Lok Sabha constituency comprises seven assembly segments…the dynamics are completely different, and not too many women can cope with the pressure of a Lok Sabha election.”
Top women leaders in the CPM admitted that they were disappointed with the party’s decision. “The number is definitely poor, but since it is a political battle, the party couldn’t take chances,” said Gupta.
But Rekha Goswami, another CPM leader and West Bengal’s minister for self-employment, said: “It’s a question of mindset…we should have set an example for other states by offering tickets to more women.”
Goswami, who is one of the two women among 44 ministers in the state, strongly disagrees with Chakraborty’s view that the party couldn’t find potential “winners” among women. She heads a department that supports at least nine million women in the state, who are part of various self-help groups. Because their livelihoods are to a great extent dependent on support from the state government, these nine million women maintain close ties with the CPM.
It appears that the Left Front is over-cautious this time because it expects the opposition led by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress party to put up a tough fight.
In 2004, the Trinamool Congress had won only one seat, and Banerjee was the lone Trinamool candidate who was voted to the Lok Sabha. The Congress had won six seats, but this year, it might join forces with the Trinamool Congress.
The Left Front, which got around 50% of polled votes in 2004 and yet won 35 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state because of a divided opposition, is worried this time. The party recently lost two assembly by-elections to the Trinamool Congress, following which former chief minister Jyoti Basu said the forthcoming Lok Sabha election was going to be a challenging one for the CPM and its allies.