With eyes on the nearly 35.8% SC and ST voters in Bankura and close to 40% in the entire tribal-dominated Jangalmahal region, the party is strategically moving ahead to corner the BJP, which made significant advances in all these tribal seats during last year’s Lok Sabha polls.
- Last Updated: September 16, 2020, 5:01 PM IST
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Kolkata: On March 5, 2020, amid beats of ‘Tamak’ (tribal drums), West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee sprung a surprise after she danced with the tribal women in Malda district.
It was a mass marriage ceremony organised by the state government under the ‘Rupashree Prakalpa’ scheme and her gesture attuned well among the tribal community despite the Bharatiya Janata Party’s impressive performance in Bengal’s Jangalmahal region in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Over the past few months, the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) has aggressively managed to regain most of its lost ground in the refugee and tribal-dominated areas of Jangalmahal and Mamata’s announcement on September 14, 2020, to set up a Tribal Sahitya Academy is certainly a well-thought move ahead of the 2021 assembly polls in Bengal.
“Dalit literature is an important chapter and its inclusion in the Bengali literature will enrich the latter. Therefore, in today’s cabinet meeting, we have decided to set up a ‘Tribal Sahitya Akademi’ in Bengal. We already have Tribal Board but ‘Tribal Sahitya Academy’ is something new,” Mamata said, with a broader target to woo all the people from the Dalit community.
While sharing more about ‘Tribal Sahitya Academy’, the chief minister had said, “The whole idea behind this is to promote learning sessions on tribal literature, setting up of a library and to address issues related to tribes like Nomosudra, Matua, Bagdi, Bauri, Dom, Manjhi and others who falls under the ST category.” Mamata announced the name of Manoranjan Byapari, a rickshaw puller turned Bengali writer and socio-political activist, as its chairman.
With eyes on the nearly 35.8% Scheduled Caste (SC) and Schedule Tribe (ST) voters in Bankura (predominantly a tribal area with 12 assembly seats out of the state’s 294) alone and close to 40% in the entire tribal-dominated Jangalmahal region, the party is strategically moving ahead to corner the BJP, which made significant advances in all these tribal seats during last year’s Lok Sabha polls.
Party insiders said that Mamata is seeing Bankura district as the gateway to win tribal confidence because three-fourths of the district is in Jangalmahal. “If we manage to set the confidence among the tribal people in Bankura, it will have ripple effects in the entire south Bengal including Purulia, Paschim Medinipur and Jhargram, consisting of 32 assembly seats (most under Jangalmahal),” a senior TMC leader in Jhargram said.
Once a Maoist stronghold, Jangalmahal’s substantial vote bank of the Left Front moving towards it has pushed the saffron brigade ahead of the ruling TMC here in recent years. This helped the BJP to create history by securing 18 Lok Sabha seats out of the total 42 in Bengal in 2019.
According to Election Commission (EC) statistics, though the BJP lost to the TMC in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the vote percentage of the saffron party increased significantly to 20% in the Jangalmahal districts. Similarly, in the 2018 panchayat elections, the BJP upped its vote share by 27% in Jangalmahal districts as the Trinamool suffered big setbacks in Jhargram, Purulia and Bankura.
On the other hand, Mamata is also carefully handling the Matua Dalit community (Scheduled Caste) because they were the deciding factor during the Left rule till she came to power in 2011. Mamata knows that any significant division in the Matua vote share – a deciding factor in nearly 90 assembly segments in the state – could shatter her ‘mission 2021’ for the assembly polls.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and in the 2016 assembly elections, it’s only with the blessings of Binapani Devi Thakur (an influential Matua leader who died on March 5, 2019) that the TMC ruled the area with the support of Matuas.
Considering these factors, Mamata has already re-activated her party’s refugee cell and appointed Mukul Chandra Bairagya as its convenor. Bairagya is the working president of the All India Namasudra Vikash Parishad (an organisation of several Scheduled Caste communities). The TMC has also approached leaders of ‘Kurmi’ (another Dalit community that falls under OBC category) to handle the BJP in some areas of Jangalmahal.
In the previous Lok Sabha polls, the Kurmis sided with the BJP in the hope that their long-pending demand of getting Scheduled Tribe status will be fulfilled (as the matter is pending with the Centre) and the saffron brigade’s vote share has increased in the last few years.