Kolkata: After reins of tribal-dominated Jharkhand slipped out of its hands this week, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is facing a corresponding challenge in neighbouring West Bengal. The Adivasi Kurmi Samaj – mainly dominant in the state’s Jangalmahal region – has called for a series of rallies against the BJP-led Centre for not fulfilling a long-pending demand of Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
On December 25, the group held a massive public meeting in Purulia district, accusing the saffron party of ignoring the plea despite repeated communication.
The development comes at a time when the BJP is girding itself for the 2021 assembly elections in West Bengal where it is looking to unseat the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government.
The saffron party won 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state this May, compared with just two five years ago, indicating a sizeable expansion in its footprints following a charged campaign. Analysts say the Kurmis went with the BJP with the hope that their situation would be resolved. The community also showed its might in the 2018 panchayat elections, when the ruling TMC suffered a big jolt in Jhargram, Purulia and Bankura. The Kurmis helped the BJP secure nearly 37 per cent of the panchayat seats. The Trinamool lost 28 of the 79 gram panchayats in these areas. In the Jhargram Panchayat Samiti, the BJP bagged two seats, while the TMC got six. At the gram panchayat level, the saffron party picked up 329 seats, snapping at the heels of the Trinamool that netted 372 seats.
However, the TMC blanked the BJP in last month's assembly bypolls, bagging all three seats. And Mamata Banerjee’s party is now trying to gain more ground in Jangalmahal, reminding residents that the Centre has not yet fulfilled the demand for ST status.
When contacted, Sukhomoy Satpathi, Jhargram BJP president, said, “We are aware of their demand. We have taken the matter to the central government and now it is up to them to look in to the issue. A delegate from the Kurmi community has already met the leaders in Delhi. I am not aware of the latest developments but I am hopeful that the matter will be resolved.”
In the 2014 assembly polls, the Kurmis extended their full support to the Trinamool chief which helped her defeat the Left Front candidate after 42 years in Jhargram. The CPI(M) had ruled the area since 1977.
The Kurmi community is going to organise a huge rally in Purba Medinipur district on Friday. On December 29 and 30, they have planned two mega shows in Bankura and Jhargram districts.
In 1913 (during British rule), the Kurmis were listed in the ST category as per the Shimla notification. However, they were dropped from the list in 1950. Presently, they are in the OBC (B) list.
It’s been almost seven decades that the Kurmis, having nearly 40 per cent votes in the region, are fighting for their demand, but nothing has been done despite submitting memorandums to former President Pranab Mukherjee and union minister Rajnath Singh in recent years, representatives say.
Anup Mahato, president of Adivasi Kurmi Samaj in Jhargram, said, “Over the years, we have felt that we were fooled by various political parties. Unfortunately, no one has so far managed to get our community listed in the ST category. This time we want some results from the central government. If we don’t get justice, then I am sure it will have a significant impact in the coming assembly polls in 2021 in Bengal’s Jangalmahal as it happened in Jharkhand (where post-poll analysis suggests the outgoing government ignored tribal sentiments).”
In all their rallies, the Kurmi Samaj leaders have decided to highlight the Jharkhand election results and the consequences of neglecting tribal issues.
Mamata Banerjee, after attending newly elected chief minister of Jharkhand Hemant Soren’s swearing-in ceremony on December 29, will directly go to Purulia for a rally in support of the Kurmi community’s demand. She had congratulated Soren after the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Congress alliance emerged victorious against the BJP in polls. The CM-elect had then invited Banerjee to attend the function.
Speaking to News18, TMC spokesperson Colonel Diptanshu Chaudhary (retd), who has been working in Jangalmahal under the ruling party’s Didi Ke Bolo (Tell Didi) campaign, said, “Like our Gorkha brothers in the Hills, the BJP fooled the Kurmis for their votes. Now, the Kurmis are realising their mistakes.”