In politics too, women with same qualities and qualifications are treated as inferior than men: Kolkata South CPI(M) candidate Nandini Mukhopadhyay
Nandini Mukhopadhyay is professor, department of computer science & engineering, Jadavpur University. She has contested from the South Kolkata Lok Sabha constituency (2014) and from the Bhawanipore Assembly seat byelections (2011) as a candidate of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). For Lok Sabha 2019, she is the CPI(M) candidate from Kolkata South constituency (her opponents are Trinamool Congress’ Mala Roy and BJP’s Chandra Kumar Bose).
Excerpts from an interview:
You are the CPI(M) candidate from Kolkata South, a seat that people identify with Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Is it like losing a battle even before you’ve started fighting it?
I definitely don’t look at it like that. If some people have the perception that this seat is associated with an individual, that has been the case only since the 1980s. Prior to that, several CPI(M) stalwarts have won from this seat.*
Political situations keep changing, and this year is certainly different. There is me, there’s the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate (Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s kin Chandra Kumar Bose); and the Trinamool Congress candidate from this seat is someone (Mala Roy) who was with the Congress not so long ago. It is not clear why a sitting parliamentarian (Trinamool Congress’ Subrata Bakshi) wasn’t made a candidate this time. So it’s definitely not a lost battle for me, it’s very positive for the CPI(M) from Kolkata South constituency this time.
*[Sadhan Gupta, Indrajit Gupta, Ranendra Nath Sen, Ganesh Ghosh from the CPI(M) won from this seat in the 1960s to 1971. At that time it was divided into separate seats, Calcutta East, Alipore and Calcutta South West. It was won by Congress’ Priya Ranjan Das Munshi in 1971 and he was MP from this seat till 1977. From 1977, when Calcutta South was a single parliamentary seat, it was won by Dilip Chakravarty of Bharatiya Lok Dal, Satya Sadhan Chakraborty of the CPI(M), Bhola Nath Sen of the Congress, and Biplab Dasgupta of the CPI(M), till Mamata Banerjee won it in 1996. Since then, she has kept the seat under her firm grip – first from the Congress and then from Trinamool Congress. After she became the chief minister, Subrata Bakshi won the byelection first and then the Lok Sabha election 2014 from this seat].
Let’s not look at this seat as a lost battle for you. Rather, let’s look at it from the perspective of its winning chances. Why didn’t your party give you a seat from where the battle is more balanced and fair, a seat with higher probability of winning? After all, you’ve fought from this seat (unsuccessfully) earlier, you are pitted against a heavyweight candidate – albeit in the backdrop – though you are viewed at as a candidate who can definitely win…
I don’t think this is a “bad” seat for me at all. In fact, since I have contested from this seat earlier, though unsuccessfully, a lot of people in this constituency know me already. Over a period of time, political situations change, and I am sure more people will vote for me. For me, this is a much better seat than in an area where people didn’t know me and where I didn’t know them either.
In politics, are there more challenges for women than for men? What are these challenges?
Certainly! The challenge is far greater for women in politics than it is for men. In the 1980s, as a student, when I participated in rallies, a lot of times, I was the only woman. People generalise, stereotype women entering politics. They are not looked at very positively. People think politics is not a good place for women to be in. Therefore, the challenges are to fight these notions and to create a place for oneself against these odds. With the same qualities and qualifications, a woman is considered far inferior than a man in every work that they do. It applies to politics as well. Having said that, I would say, the Left parties are a lot more liberal and progressive when it comes to these biases against women.
You say that, but ironically, the number of women in Left politics is far less than the number of men. And while the CPI(M) has consistently supported the Women’s Reservation Bill (for 33 per cent reservation of seats in the Parliament), there hasn’t been that many women joining the party or making it big in the party. Why hasn’t that happened?
You could say it reflects the larger picture of what our society is like. A woman has to do housework, take care of the home, apart from her job, and if she is part of a political party, then too she is unable to devote as much time to the party as the men. Possibly that is a reason fewer women joined politics, and fewer still have reached the top. But things must change, and things are definitely changing. [In the CPI(M) last plenum report of 2016, the male membership percentage was 84.72%, while the female membership percentage was 15.28%. The subsequent figures indicate no major changes in the male: female membership ratio. There were no women general secretaries in the party since its inception, only two politburo members (out of 17), there are no women state secretaries and less than 10 out of its central committee members out of 94 are women]
Every time there is a Brigade meeting, the disparity clearly shows, the politburo indicates the same imbalance…
Debolina Hembrom spoke at the Brigade this time, earlier there was Rekha Goswami… things will definitely change more in future…
It seems like a tokenism that one woman, one tribal representative get the chance to be represented among a majority of men who are the main decision-makers in a party. And though your party claims to be much more progressive than other political parties, why do you think not that many women candidates have been fielded by the CPI(M) compared to others (Trinamool Congress has fielded 41 per cent women candidates)?
That may be true in terms of numbers. But the CPI(M) only nominates individuals with experience in politics. As I mentioned, it reflects the overall picture of what our society is like, and with an overall change, the same will be reflected in politics. The CPI(M) will never field a dummy candidate or one who doesn’t have a voice of her/his own.
When teachers, professors become candidates, they are not criticised as much as actors. Consider the recent trolls that Mimi Chakraborty, Nusrat Jahan faced on social media. A lot of it came from supporters of your party, where the CPI(M) claims to have “progressive”, “educated” supporters. A lot of uncouth comments are often directed at Mamata Banerjee too. But there seems to be no clear direction from the party that these won’t be tolerated. Do women leaders really have a voice within the CPI(M)? Why can’t they stop these (considering the men in the party don’t find these offensive)?
One, Left candidates from other professions are only those who also have background in politics. It is never for a glamour factor that actors have been made candidates by Left parties. Therefore, such criticism never came when actors like Anil Chatterjee or Biplab Chattopadhyay became CPI(M) candidates.
Two, social media is a place where people say a lot of things without any accountability. I cannot recall a case where “members” of the CPI(M) would have trolled the candidates you mentioned. Our candidate from Jadavpur constituency, Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, has clearly said that there is no question of personal attack against his opponent. I have also always followed the same principle. On the contrary, the Kolkata Mayor has made some comments about me that were totally uncalled for, and unacceptable.