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Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Kurmi demand for ST status meets BJP's anti-corruption plank, TMC's development card in Bengal's Purulia

The stage in this Kurmi-majority seat looks all set for a fierce three-cornered battle between incumbent BJP MP Jyotirmoy Singh Mahato, TMC’s former state minister Shantiram Mahato and Congress’s old war horse Nepal Mahato, all of who represent the Kurmi scheduled caste community.
Last Updated : 12 May 2024, 06:31 IST
Last Updated : 12 May 2024, 06:31 IST

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Purulia: A high-stakes electoral showdown is in the offing at Purulia Lok Sabha constituency in West Bengal with lack of industrialisation and corruption allegations dominating the poll narrative in the backdrop of the omnipresent local Kurmi struggle for Scheduled Tribe status.

The stage in this Kurmi-majority seat looks all set for a fierce three-cornered battle between incumbent BJP MP Jyotirmoy Singh Mahato, TMC’s former state minister Shantiram Mahato and Congress’s old war horse Nepal Mahato, all of who represent the Kurmi scheduled caste community.

While the BJP perceptively earned the Kurmi confidence to dislodge the TMC from the seat in 2019, the latter, in its bid to regain the community's support in the region, has announced in its poll manifesto that it will stand by its demand for ST status and pursue the Centre for its approval.

Even smaller parties like SUCI (Communist) have fielded candidates from the same community in the form of young student leader Sushmita Mahato.

Political analyst Debashis Ghorai, professor at Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University, said with most of the political parties fielding Kurmi candidates, there is a chance of a split in Kurmi votes, which could make things tough for the TMC candidate.

Nepal Mahato, however, claimed that caste will not be a factor in Purulia as people are more concerned about basic livelihood issues.

"If you consider my case. I was chosen by my party being a bhumiputra having decades of political experience. People of Purulia also want a secular liberal democratic government at the Centre," he said.

The BJP is focused on criticising TMC's governance policies and looks keen to point out corruption and development stagnation in the region as its key campaign strategies.

With promises to develop the region's industrial landscape, the saffron party also aims to sway the local Hindu vote bank by capitalising on emotive issues like the Ram Temple consecration, which played a pivotal role in their past electoral victories.

The TMC, on the other hand, is banking on the development card, citing Mamata Banerjee's plans to launch a Rs 62,000-crore industrial park project in Raghunathpur and a slew of social welfare schemes such as ‘Lakshmir Bhandar’, ‘Kanyashree’ and ‘Sabujsathi’ which she has already introduced.

While Jyotirmoy Singh Mahato has accused the Trinamool Congress of making hollow promises and financial malpractices, the TMC retaliated by decrying alleged discrimination by the Centre against Bengal for years.

Mahato, a native of Baghmundi within the constituency, alleged that the Mamata Banerjee government has lost people’s faith on account of the scams it indulged in and the Lok Sabha results will be the precursor of the fall of state government in the next assembly polls.

“The administration, in collusion with the ruling party, is doing everything possible to prevent the benefits of central welfare projects from reaching the common man,” he said.

The state’s plans for the mega Raghunathpur industrial park and tourism circuit to help unemployed youths, as announced by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in 2021, will never take off, the young MP claimed.

Mahato asserted that Modi has restored the pride of Hindus since coming to power in 2014 and this will be reflected in the ballot.

“Issues like rolling out of the CAA, which will help migrant persecuted Hindus gain citizenship, to building the Ram temple in Ayodhya, have been noticed by people who have had enough of the appeasement politics of the TMC and previous Congress governments in Delhi," he added.

Purulia's political landscape has witnessed significant shifts over the years, from Congress to TMC and the latest ascent of the BJP. Mahato's resounding victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls reflected a notable change in the constituency's political allegiances.

Striking a different chord, Shantiram Mahato said, “The TMC government’s slew of social welfare projects have left deep imprints in the minds of people." "Our CM Mamata Banerjee has been working to help the poor and the downtrodden. She is fighting the lies spread by the opposition. The current Purulia MP did not stand by the people, even during the Covid years. People are fed up with the BJP. I am certain of my victory,” he said during a poll campaign in the constituency’s Kashipur block.

He asserted that development is the key issue in Purulia which is home to a large number of impoverished people.

With critical issues like lack of industrialisation and employment opportunities at the forefront, Congress candidate Nepal Mahato echoed the electorate's concerns.

Interacting with reporters recently, Mahato said that due to the recent SSC scam, several schools in the constituency have been adversely affected since many teachers lost their jobs.

He alleged that issues like drinking water, employment and tourism have been continuously neglected by the TMC government, while the BJP’s sole agenda was to polarise the society on religious grounds.

“The BJP and TMC are two sides of the same coin – one obsessed with temple politics and dividing society, and the other focused on siphoning off money meant for the poor,” he said.

“We have been hearing a lot about the Raghunathpur industrial park for long. It continues to remain a pipedream under TMC rule,” he added.

The saffron party first gained prominence in Purulia during the 2018 panchayat elections, seizing several seats from the ruling party.

In the 2019 general elections, the party made significant strides in the forest-covered Jangalmahal area of central Bengal, including Purulia, winning all constituencies in the region.

The TMC had a stint of glory in Purulia when in 2014 it wrested the seat from Left partner Forward Bloc which held the seat for 37 years. That glory was short-lived since the BJP snatched it away in 2019 by a margin of over two lakh votes.

The constituency comprises seven assembly segments – Purulia, Baghmundi, Manbazar, Balarampur, Kashipur, Para SC, and Joypur – with an electorate of over 14 lakhs. Purulia goes to polls in the sixth phase on May 25.

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Published 12 May 2024, 06:31 IST

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