February 18, 2015

Women shakti and the big TMC bypoll win

The recent by-elections in West Bengal, for the Bongaon parliamentary seat and the Krishnaganj assembly seat, resulted in big victories for the Trinamool Congress. They established the trend, evident in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and subsequent by-elections, that Trinamool remains the dominant party in the state. However, the CPI(M) is slipping rapidly from its second position and ceding ground to the BJP. Of course, both these parties are too far behind Trinamool for us to be seriously worried.

For me the story of the by-elections was about women’s power in politics. This is not just a reference to Mamata Banerjee, our stalwart leader, who has fought the onslaught of two successive governments at the Centre now and emerged vindicated, but also of our party’s culture of empowering women down the line.

Only 11 per cent of India’s MPs are women. The Women’s Reservation Bill proposes to take this number to 33.33 per cent. Trinamool already boasts of a 35.12 percentage representation for women in our parliamentary party. The lady who helped us cross this threshold was my colleague Mamatabala Thakur, who has just been elected from Bongaon.

The by-election was necessitated when our MP, Kapil Krishna Thakur, passed away in October 2014. A leading light of the Matua community, there were many contenders for his seat of Bongaon. His brother was a Trinamool MLA and minister in the state government. He resigned and joined the BJP, as did the brother’s son. Now both father and son were contenders for the BJP nomination and the son – nephew of the late Kapil Krishna Thakur – finally got the ticket.

Who would the Matua community back? Would it stay true to Trinamool or would it swing with that section of the Thakur family that had defected to the BJP? The decision was taken by Mamata Banerjee and the 95-year-old matriarch of the Matua community, Binapani Devi, the “Great Mother” of the Matua people, ageing but still sharp as a needle. Rather than back her son or grandson in the BJP – or even her second surviving son (Kapil Krishna Thakur’s other brother) – a new name was proposed: Mamatabala Thakur, the late Kapil Krishna Thakur’s wife.

The lady, a newcomer to politics but very aware of social and economic conditions and challenges among her constituents, won easily. The Matua community, which has its origins in a religious reform movement in erstwhile east Bengal, taught a few lessons in women’s shakti and in consistent, principled politics to city-slicker media honchos, who had all but announced a BJP victory.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress