With the Assembly elections around the corner, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the BJP are wooing the prominent caste groups in West Bengal.
Although caste was not considered a key political factor in the state during the 34 years of Left Front rule, it started to make its presence felt, albeit as a vote bank, when TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee started to woo the Matua community before the 2011 Assembly elections.
Belonging to the SC community, Matuas settled in West Bengal after arriving from the then East Pakistan (modern day Bangladesh in large number following Partition. With a population of 3 crore they are a significant factor in about 20 Assembly constituencies in the state.
Mamata recognised their electoral clout, and her strategy paid off when the Matuas voted for the TMC in large numbers which contributed significantly to the ouster of the Left Front in 2011.
She is seeking to counter the saffron party by addressing the aspirations of different caste groups through welfare measures.
Her key focus seems to be the SC, ST and OBC communities as the BJP managed to win 18 seats in Bengal in the last Lok Sabha elections by winning in the SC, ST dominated areas in the state such as the districts of Alipurduar, Bankura, Jhargram and North 24 Paraganas.
Last November, she allotted Rs 10 crore for the Matua Development Board and Rs 5 crore for the Namasudra Development Board. The fund allotments by naming the specific caste groups is clear indication of her strategy.
“She wants to take away BJP’s key vote base in the state to stop the party in its tracks in the Assembly elections,” a senior TMC leader said.
It has been BJP’s strategy since the 1990s to woo the tribals and OBC communities to make inroads into the state. BJP has successfully eaten into the TMC’s Matua vote base by fielding Shantanu Thakur, the grandson of the late Matua matriarch Binpani Devi from Bongaon Lok Sabha constituency and wining the seat. Union Home Minister Amit Shah is trying to woo them by having lunch at their home during his visits to the state. BJP also tried to woo the communities such as Matuas with the promise of citizenship under the CAA.
“Shah wants to ensure that Mamata cannot lure these communities from the BJP,” a state BJP leader said.
“Mamata is trying to address specific community aspirations. The move is in reaction to BJP’s success in getting significant numbers of SC, ST votes in the last Lok Sabha elections. Both parties are trying to highlight the aspirations of specific communities.” political observer and author Snigdhendu Bhattacharya told DH.