Kolkata: To shore up support for itself among women, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM-led Left Front is set to field women candidates in at least 45% of the seats that will be up for grabs in the 82 municipality elections due in West Bengal in the next two months, a U-turn from the 2009 general election in which it fielded only two women for 42 parliamentary seats in the state.
The Left parties have traditionally fielded more women candidates for municipality and panchayat polls than for assembly and general elections, but this time it’s going to be “significantly higher” than in previous years, according to Rabin Deb, state secretariat member of the CPM.
“At least 45% of our candidates (in the forthcoming municipality elections) will be women,” he said. “Some of our most competent representatives in municipalities are women... Some of them have won from unreserved seats for up to five successive terms.”
Women power: CPM supporters at Mayapur, Arambagh. The West Bengal government plans to introduce a law under which half of the seats in village councils would be reserved for women. Indranil Bhoumik / Mint
Alongside, the West Bengal government is planning to introduce a law by which half of the seats in village councils and municipalities would be reserved for women in line with other Left-ruled states such as Kerala and Tripura.
West Bengal’s minister for rural development Anisur Rahaman announced in the state assembly on Tuesday that 50% of seats in panchayats would be reserved for women, and on Wednesday, the state’s urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya made a similar announcement for municipalities.
However, the laws for reservation of seats for women may not be introduced in the ongoing Budget session because the government is not ready yet with the paperwork, according to Rahaman.
“We had wanted to introduce the reservation ahead of the municipality elections this year, but there doesn’t seem to be enough time to implement it,” said Bhattacharya.
The aim of these initiatives is to score a political point over the Trinamool Congress, West Bengal’s main opposition party, which chose to abstain from voting on the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha, or the Upper House of Parliament.
West Bengal has at least 28 million women voters. “We are committed to empower women in our state, and need greater representation of women at all levels,” said Deb.
Fielding more women candidates would mean the Left parties would bench a large number of sitting representatives, according to Shyamali Gupta, another state secretariat member of the CPM and general secretary of the Ganatantrik Mahila Samity, the CPM’s women’s wing. “Corruption among women is less...so they do a better job as people’s representatives in civic bodies and panchayats,” she said.
In the May general election, the CPM-led coalition managed to win only 16 of the 42 seats in West Bengal, polling 1.5 million votes less than the opposition parties. The Left parties are desperately trying to regain lost ground ahead of the assembly elections in the state next year, and Gupta said: “The (general) election results showed that our support among women might have weakened.”
In West Bengal, the CPM alone has around 30,000 women members as against 300,000 men.
The Trinamool Congress dismissed the Left Front’s pro-women initiatives as “pre-poll gimmicks”. “Our leader Mamata Banerjee has been working for women and the minorities from the day the Trinamool Congress was founded,” said Javed Ahmed Khan, leader of the opposition in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC).
When the Trinamool Congress had wrested control of the KMC board in 2000, it had appointed two women and three people from the minority communities as mayor-in-councils—or people who are part of an apex body, Khan said. “We don’t need pre-poll gimmicks like these to prove our commitment to the women and minority communities in the state.”