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Amid 'Insider-Outsider' Politics in Bengal, Parties Don’t Want To Miss Out on ‘Crucial’ Migrant Votes

Voters from Cooch Behar display their identity cards (Image: PTI)

Voters from Cooch Behar display their identity cards (Image: PTI)

Hindi-speaking migrant groups, though not a significant in number, are sought-after by political parties, with BJP commanding a slight edge.

As the West Bengal Assembly Elections 2021 enters the third phase, the ‘insider-outsider’ (Bengali and Non-Bengali) politics is subtly being played by both the political camps in the state.

While the BJP and the TMC is engrossed in attacking each other using Bengali lingos — from TMC’s ‘Khela Hobe’ to BJP’s ‘Ashol Poriborton’ and ‘Sonar Bangla’ — both the camps are making it a point to not hurt the Hindi-speaking vote bank in the state.

Hindi-speaking migrant groups, which make a crucial number, are present across the state. Though not significant in number, they remain the sought-after number for the political parties.

Some of the Hindi-speaking population migrated 50 to 100 years ago for employment in coal belt-areas and tea estates. The cities bordering Bihar and Jharkhand, like Uttar Dinajpur, Birbhum and Malda had considerable number of migrant populations. Today, it isn’t just restrained to a few districts as the non-Bengali speakers could be found across the State with concentration in major cities of the State.

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Some experts believe that a significant number of migrants may mobilise behind the BJP due to the Hindutva mobilisation in the state.

“Non-Bengalis voters may go with the Hindutva politics in Bengal. Not as a whole, but in majority they will back BJP because of two reasons: there is an effect of Hindutva consciousness in Bengal and then they do not adjust with the Bhadralok politics in the State,” Badri Narayan, professor at Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad said.

He said that the group which comes mostly from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have a familiarity with the BJP politics in these States.

According to the 2011 census, 24.4 lakh population in West Bengal were from other states — mostly Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand and UP. Bengal has 11.4 lakh people from Bihar, 4.6 lakh from Jharkhand, 2.4 lakh from UP and 1.4 lakh from Odisha. The number has significantly increased in the ten years.

Of the 44.9 lakh population of Kolkata — one-fifth (8.3 lakh) are migrants — mostly from Bihar (50 percent), followed by UP, Jharkhand and Odisha. “Their (migrant groups) voting choice is not homogenous, but they will bend mostly towards the BJP. Wherever the group sees that a BJP candidate is influential they will vote for BJP, but on the other hand some do believe that Mamata has done a lot of work in Bengal,” Narayan added.

The parties are not unfamiliar with this crucial number. Their attempts to cater to the group started some time ago.

Mamata Banerjee while addressing the Hindi-speaking group in January said, “I have always accepted people who speak Hindi, Punjabi and other languages as our brothers. Have any of you ever faced any problem in Bengal? I never differentiated between languages and regional backgrounds. Support us and we will take care of you as always.”

Last year, in order to appeal the people from Bihar, Mamata had also announced two state holidays during Chhath Puja, a popular religious festival in Bihar and the Hindi heartland.

Whereas the migrant groups remain spread across the state, the numbers are visible in Uttar Dinajpur, Barddhaman, North 24 Parganas, Hooghly, Howrah and Kolkata.

The BJP on the other hand doesn’t fall behind in the appeal. The party with its nationalist politics and the groundwork of the party and the RSS tried wooing the considerable section.

A local journalist in Bengal said that the eastern periphery has been angry at Mamata over the failed development promises. “These group can vote against Mamata for the very same reason they voted against the Left government. Also, they can relate to the national aspirations which the BJP is trying to project,” the journalist said.

Some experts said that migrant votes will not play out differently as the past poll results shows that Bengal opted unanimously for stability.

“In Bengal, politics plays out like Odisha. We see politicians voted to power again and again. It’s similar to Naveen Patnaik (in Odisha) who got elected for five terms. Nitish Kumar also got to power for fourth term despite strong opposition. Since there is no credible leader in the opposition, there can be a long-term trend for stability,” says Maidul Islam, assistant professor of political science at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta.

Islam suggested that the nationalist appeal wouldn’t work in Bengal as there is no credible alternative in the state.

“In 2001, there was real anger against the Left, but it came back with two-thirds majority. Similarly, in 2016, there was a huge anger against Trinamool among the middle classes because of corruption and scams but the opposition alliance only got 77,” he added.

However, other experts suggest that what is called the Hindi-speaking migrant group is not a community per se, but it

is composed of Hindus and Muslims from northern States of UP and Bihar; Marwaris from Rajasthan, Gujarati and others. The concern and the politics of the community are different.

“The non-Bengali Muslims, who are more exposed to the politics of UP and Bihar, they have consolidated with the TMC. In case of the Hindi speaking migrants, a consolidation was seen in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It is likely to stand behind the BJP in this election,” Dr Mohammad Reyaz Assistant Professor at Kolkata’s Aliah University said.

Reyaz says that in some seats the Hindi-speaking have some influence like in Asansol, Siliguri, Howrah and Kolkata. But that wouldn’t be enough to form the government. The parties are targeting similar significant groups to add up the number.

“If BJP comes to power, it will be largely because of Bengali speaking people. The party is also targeting Matua community, OBC, backward groups and middle-class Bengalis,” Reyaz added.