The 2021 West Bengal elections became a pan Indian conversation and stirred a discourse that was multi-dimensional and intersectional. Men from the Delhi house almost commuted regularly to secure their position in Bengal and to bring about “Ashol Poriborton” (Real development/progress).
The elections happened amidst a raging pandemic and just when board exams got cancelled, postponed, risking the future of thousands of students, Election Commission gave a green signal to conduct elections in multiple states quite desperately. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was clear in his intentions and had his gaze fixed on the 294 (292) constituencies of Bengal, confident of securing wins in more than 200 constituencies.
The election results have spoken otherwise and have favoured Mamata Banerjee, granting her a landslide victory with a massive lead. There can be a lot of political dialogue wherein we could critique the nuances of the strategies and political aspirations; how Political Advisor, Prashant Kishore’s powerful data analysis saved the TMC government and how BJP’s over-confidence and failed vision led to their misfortune. However, it would be fair to mention repeatedly that the COVID-19 situation in the state wouldn’t have hit so low had the elections been postponed.
Amidst all these conversations, one that demands immediate attention is how a Chief Minister of a state was heckled by National Leaders simply because of her gender. Mamata Banerjee’s popularity as a politician was greatly because of her grassroots level interaction, her power to connect with people so locally that they are compelled to consider her “Ghorer Meye” (Ghar ki beti)
This exact quality questioned the “Bhadrolok” (gentleman; used mostly to refer to Upper Caste Bengali men) culture of the CPI-M party leaders and eventually led to their downfall in the most dramatic way possible, way back in 2011 when she first came to power. But this is 2021 and she continues to face gendered abuse like most female politicians even if she comes out successful every time.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah conducted extensive rallies for a couple of months, leading a whole bandwagon against her that only kept increasing as more and more MLAs shifted from TMC to BJP to contest against their previous party. Mamata Banerjee is collectively addressed as ‘Didi’ and Mr Modi made it a point to at least call her “Didi o Didi” once in every rally, followed by thunderous cheers from the audience.
There wasn’t an ounce of respect in an address as pure as “Didi,” instead, it was filled with taunts, sarcasm, almost gaslighting her to lose her calm.
— NDTV (@ndtv) April 13, 2021
BJP chief Dilip Ghosh followed closely, ridiculing her for apparently showing her plastered leg intentionally, which supposedly goes against Indian customs. He had the audacity to suggest her to wear “Barmudas” instead.
What is strange and worth introspection is that these 56 inches chests thumping saffron-clad men called her all sorts of names, cat-called her, taunted her and as much as gaslighted her only because she was a woman? This is 2021 and these are our national leaders who are supposed to set an example in society.
BJP MLA Babul Supriyo, who was visibly disappointed after the results ranted on Facebook, “Bengal made a historic mistake by electing this Corrupt, Incapable, Dishonest Government and a cruel lady back to power!!” If one dissects his comment, it is so disheartening to see a Government being criticized separately and the female leader of the very government being ridiculed individually, so unabashedly.
One could arguably say that female politicians ‘also’ attack male politicians, or that gender must be kept outside of political rivalry but in a feudal society as ours, can we truly overlook gendered violence, gender disparity and internalized misogyny? We have to be conveniently blind and supremely secured in privilege to not be concerned about sexism.
When a party chief addresses a woman from a podium so disrespectfully and thousands cheer in solidarity, one can expect very little progress and inclusiveness that must otherwise be promised institutionally.
And this isn’t just about Mamata Banerjee and BJP, it is about every politician out there who flex their supremacy in terms of their gender, caste and capital, giving into their patriarchal conditioning.
Actress turned MPs of AITC, Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan were trolled relentlessly for allegedly wearing “Vulgar” clothes to the parliament. Congress’ Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury couldn’t disagree with Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman without resorting to personal attacks, “Sometimes I feel like calling you ‘Nirbala’ Sitharaman (powerless) instead of Nirmala Sitharaman,” Chowdhury commented.
Deepika Padukone was vehemently criticized for sexist, derogatory comments for rendering solidarity to the students of JNU in late 2019. A BJP Politician from Madhya Pradesh had stated that “She should have danced in Mumbai instead.”
It isn’t coincidental that women are repeatedly targeted, this is institutional and ingrained.
Sexism in Indian politics deserves national attention and we can only hope for more dialogue on this issue. As a society, this should be our collective goal to address the elephant in the room, Patriarchy. Surprisingly, even after criticisms and social media backlashes, very few politicians care to apologise publicly. The National Commission for Women should regulate stringent punishment that would not be manipulated by powerful politicians arbitrarily.
One could have a lot of differences with Mamata Banerjee in terms of political ideologies, can even point out instances where she made sexist comments in the past but it wouldn’t be fair to not appreciate her for her courage and resilience to face these men who constantly tried tricks and tactics to intentionally infuriate her. It was one woman fighting against men forming human barricades but she really did break the glass ceiling and emerged a leader. We can now only hope for better governance from her, making Bengal a state worthy of its rich cultural legacy.