Women voters have been a driving force for Mamata Banerjee’s repeated electoral successes. Data shows percentage growth of women voters in West Bengal has surpassed that of men in recent elections. In fact, for a state that has been consistently recording high voter turnout, the total number of electors too has seen significant growth since Mamata came to power in 2011.
With 159 more seats left to vote in another four phases in Bengal, how far the Trinamool Congress can capitalise on the state’s added electoral strength in the face of a resurgent BJP remains to be seen. But here we try to decipher how an increase in women voters has both major contenders trying to woo the same constituency.
Nearly 75 lakh more voters compared to the 2016 assembly polls are eligible to cast their votes in the ongoing elections. This is over one-tenth of the current electoral strength (7.34 crore) in the state. But is this a huge spike in the number of electors in respect to previous elections? Actually, not.
In the 2014 parliamentary election, Bengal recorded an additional 1.03 crore voters compared to the 2009 Lok Sabha election. In absolute numbers, this is the highest addition of new voters in the state’s electoral history. Between two assembly elections, the maximum number of electors (97.32 lakh) was added in 2016.
In terms of percentage growth as well, 2014 recorded the highest spike in new voters. In that year, 20 per cent more voters were added to the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, while 12 per cent more voters were added compared to the 2011 assembly polls. It was the only year when the state recorded a double-digit electoral growth rate from their last Lok Sabha and assembly elections. Between 2016 and 2021, the growth rate of electors was just around 5 per cent.
Since 2011, Bengal has witnessed double-digit growth rate of new voters in every assembly election. However, in 2006, the state had witnessed negative growth (-1 per cent) in this aspect. This was the only year in Bengal’s history when the number of electors came down from the previous election.
The gender divide
The year 2011 marked the rise of Mamata and mahila voter in Bengal. It was also the first time when the growth rate of female electors equaled that of male electors. Since then, in each assembly as well as parliamentary election, the growth rate of female electors has been always higher than their male counterparts. At present, Bengal has 49 per cent women voters and is among a handful of bigger states where they comprise almost half the total electorate.
As the below chart shows, since 2011, the growth rate of women voters has been 2-3 per cent higher than that of men. Incidentally, the growth rate for both declined by 6 per cent each in 2019. At present, Bengal’s average electoral growth rate compared to the 2016 assembly election is 11 per cent. While men have registered a growth of 10 per cent, women voters increased by 13 per cent. This gap too is not uniform and varies in different regions.
North and Southeast Bengal have the highest growth rate (14 per cent) of female electors, while Greater Kolkata region has the lowest (11 per cent). However, in Greater Kolkata region, the gender gap in growth rate is higher (4 per cent).
Modi, Mamata and mahila
In 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi managed to garner a sizeable chunk of women votes as the BJP went on to record its best electoral performance in the state so far. The BJP has understood that to win Bengal, it needs to win over women votes. Both Mamata and Modi have been trying to attract women voters through different schemes.
The Trinamool government had introduced Kanyashree, Rupashree and several other schemes to target the women constituency, especially poorer families, with cash incentives. The Modi government, on the other hand, sought to empower women through Ujjwala and various other financial benefits for students and budding entrepreneurs.
In a fiercely contested assembly election, it would be interesting to see how women decide the electoral outcome of Bengal in 2021.
(Ashish Ranjan is an independent researcher)