Tripura Election results 2018: Women played key role in scripting BJP victory, CPM's ouster

Rashme Sehgal

Following the BJP's spectacular win in Tripura, psephologists are pouring the late night oil going into the nitty-gritty details of which groups and factions contributed to such a major swing.

The BJP got around 43 percent of the vote share from getting 1.3 percent in the 2013 election. How did they succeed in such a major turnaround?

Women voters and the youth have contributed in a large way to this victory. Prime Minister Narendra Modi accepted this fact when he pointed out on 4 March in a speech at Tumakuru that the two pillars of victory in Tripura were women and youth.

A tribal woman shows her ink-marked finger after casting vote for Tripura Assembly elections on the outskirts of Agartala. PTI

A tribal woman shows her ink-marked finger after casting vote for Tripura Assembly elections on the outskirts of Agartala. PTI

"This is a historic verdict in democratic India and the strong fort built by the Left has now been blown away by these two forces, which have brought down the (state) government," Modi had said.

Tripura's deputy chief election officer Taposh Roy of the Election Commission had statistics to confirm that women had voted in larger numbers than their male counterparts in a large number of constituencies.

"In Unakoti district Assembly constituency no 53, over 90.60 percent women cast their vote as against 81.72 percent men. In south Tripura district constituency 35, 94.33 percent women voted against 93.81 male voters,"

"In south Tripura district Assembly constituency 34, female voters were 93.81 percent against 88.40 percent male," said Roy.

Interestingly, in Dhanpur, the constituency of former chief minister Manik Sarkar, Roy pointed out: "Female voters averaged 95.26 percent against male voters who averaged 90.09 percent."

"In the chief minister-designate Biplap Kumar Deb's Banamalipur, women voters crossed 86.09 percentage as against male voting percentage of 86.30," Roy added.

Tripura Congress vice-president Tapas Dey admitted as much when he said that women played a crucial role in helping BJP sweep these elections. Dey attributed their success to four main groups: "Women, who have a three percent higher vote share than men in this election, voted against the CPM." The other groups were the youth, government employees and the tribal population.

Of course, Dey attributed the BJP winning the women vote to the lack of safety in the state with Tripura having the highest rate of crime after Uttar Pradesh with one of the lowest conviction rates, according to the National Crime Record Bureau.

Agartala-based Geeta Debnath, a retired teacher from an undergraduate college, pointed out: "After 20 years of CPM rule, people were fed up. Women had supported the CPM and formed a key part of their cadre but they too wanted a change. The CPM party was trying to control every aspect of our lives in urban areas, whether it be in schools, offices and in colleges. It was not the diktat of the state government that ran but that of the party. The situation in rural Bengal was different."

Agartala-based Rita Chakma is even more blunt in her assessment of the situation. Chakma is a housewife whose husband is a retired government employee. Chakma feels, "the BJP promise of implementing the Seventh Pay Commission for government employees has been one of the major catalysts for their win. They have implemented the same in the neighbouring state of Assam and naturally, we also feel this is our due and should come to us."

Chakma is equally critical of the CPM style of functioning: "Modi's slogan of 'Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas' appealed to the women-folk. We were not happy with the way the CPM party had become too strong for its boots. If a family member dies, we have to go to the party office and wrap the party flag around his body. Then only sab kaam ho jate hain (only then does the work gets done). If you fail to attend a party meeting, then you will get targeted. Un ki marzi se chalna padta tha (we had to operate as per the will of the party)," said Chakma.

"The Congress and BJP parties do not try and wreak this kind of over control. This constant genuflecting before CPM leaders needed to come to an end. That is why the 'Chalo Paltai' slogan won our hearts," Chakma added.

Not all women agree with these remarks though. A leading woman sociologist in a college in Agartala, on condition of anonymity, said: "Of course there is the anti-incumbency issue and the cancellation of the 10,333 government jobs in a decision by the Supreme Court but we cannot overlook the amount of money that was pumped into these elections by the BJP. The state needed resources which were denied to it by the Centre."

The BJP alliance with the IPFT has also cost the CPM dearly. "I understand that the BJP reportedly has gifted 12,000 bikes to tribals who have been holding these bike rallies on a regular basis, in order to build up a momentum for the elections," she said.

She also believed, and this viewpoint is being supported by a cross-section of women. "A large population of the Bengalis are refugees from Bangladesh and the Hindutva ideology appeals to this Hindu cross-section of the population. The fact that it has an anti-Muslim undercurrent is also something that goes down well with them," she said.

Aparna De, secretary of the Tripura State Commission for Women expressed satisfaction at the large numbers of women who have participated in the election. "It is significant that such large numbers of women have come forward to cast their vote. The main reason for this is that levels of political awareness are very high and women understand that their vote counts," De said.

Another housewife, Ritupriya Barman, regrets how the Congress has allowed its vote bank to be usurped by the BJP. "Forty-four out of sixty BJP candidates who fought the elections are from the Congress. Why did the party allow this to happen? It is a disgrace," she said.

The Lokniti Centre post-poll survey for Centre for Study of Developing Societies found that while the BJP-IPFT alliance bagged nearly 55 percent of the votes among voters aged between 18 and 45, it netted about 45 percent of the votes among the older voters. For the Left, it was the other way around, thereby pointing to how the male voters helped clinch the BJP victory.

As per the post-poll survey, the BJP-IPFT led the Left parties among male voters by 12 percentage points in terms of the votes polled but trailed the Left among female voters by two points. The gender gap is more pronounced amongst non-tribals than among tribals so while the tribal women voted for the BJP alliance in greater proportion than for the Left, they did so with a much lower intensity as they were not enthused by the BJP coming to power.

But this, and most other elections in our country only serve to highlight how under-represented women are in the Assembly. Tripura enjoys a much better sex ration than other states as also higher levels of education amongst its women and yet, despite 25 years of Left rule, only twenty-four women contested the Assembly elections in this state.

That is two women lesser than in 2013. And from these, only Bijina Nath won a third consecutive term on a CPM ticket. So much for women's liberation. Political power continues to escape the majority of women in our country even 70 years after Independence.

Also See: Tripura Election results 2018: Ex-RSS volunteer Biplab Kumar Deb emerges as top contender for CM's post

Biplab Deb to be next Tripura CM, Jishnu Deb Burman his deputy; swearing-in likely on Friday

Tripura polls: Change in mid-level leadership key to Left's revival, finding their own 'Ram Temple' issue

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