Broken Promises: Powerful Kurmis of Jangalmahal Send Out a Warning to TMC and BJP for 2021 Assembly Polls
For several decades, the community was used by various political parties in the name of fighting for its long-pending demand of Scheduled Tribe status; now its leaders say they will only vote for the party in Bengal that keeps its word.
First, they say, they were fooled by the Congress, then it was the Bangla Congress (1967-71) and after that the communists. With a history of more than 65 years of mistrust, the Kurmi community in West Bengal's Jangalmahal could be a major challenge for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the state's ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), with an eye on the 2021 assembly polls, is working extensively to regain its lost ground in the area by reminding residents that the Centre has not yet fulfilled their long-pending demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
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 still 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.
In this year's Lok Sabha polls, the Kurmis went with the BJP with the hope that their situation would be resolved and the saffron party’s vote share jumped remarkably from abput 19 per cent in 2014 to nearly 41 per cent in 2019.
The Kurmis also showed their might in the 2018 panchayat election, when the ruling TMC suffered a massive jolt in Jhargram, Purulia and Bankura, after they decided to go with the BJP. The community helped them secure nearly 37 per cent of the panchayat seats. TMC lost 28 out of the 79 gram panchayats in these areas.
In the Jhargram Panchayat Samiti, the BJP secured two seats, while six seats were won by the TMC. At the gram panchayat level, the BJP secured 329 seats, while the TMC received 372 seats.
A significant achievement was witnessed at Purulia’s Balarampur where the BJP secured 18 out of 20 panchayat samiti seats.
However, in the last few months, the Kurmis have been raising their voice against the Centre as the demand is still pending. They even threatened to go back with the ruling TMC in the 2021 assembly polls because they felt that they were being fooled by the BJP – similar to what happened with the Gorkhas in the hills.
Speaking to News18, TMC spokesperson Colonel Diptanshu Chaudhary (retd), who is extensively working in Jangalmahal to resolve people’s grievances under the ‘Didi Ke Bolo’ campaign, said, “BJP showed Kurmis and SC community a dream which they showed to the Gorkhas in Darjeeling and Matuas in some parts of Bengal. Now Kurmis are realising that they were fooled by the BJP by not taking their ST status demand seriously. We are visiting their houses in Jangalmahal as a part of ‘Jan Sanjog Sabha’ and referring to how the BJP used Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) in the hills without fulfilling their demand for a separate state for their political interest. We are also highlighting how the BJP has put this country in acute economic crisis.. They did the same thing with the Matuas by assuring citizenship but now you go to their villages, you will see that there is a clear rift among the people. The BJP factor is slowly evaporating from people’s mind in Bengal.”
In the 2014 assembly polls, Kurmis extended their full support to Mamata Banarjee which helped her defeat the Left Front candidate after 42 years in Jhargram. The CPI(M) ruled Jhargram from 1977 to 2014.
In 2014, TMC’s Dr Uma Soren won the general election by defeating CPI(M)’s Dr Pulin Bihari Baske by 3,47,883 votes in Jhargram. In the Last Lok Sabha polls, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee fielded Beerbaha Soren from this ST-reserved constituency as sitting MP Uma Soren failed to live up to the expectation of the Kurmis.
The power of the Kurmis in the political arena could be judged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s public rallies on the same day at Jhargram and Gopiballavpur respectively on May 6, 2019.
Sukhomoy Sathpathi, Jhargram BJP president, said, “Their (Kurmis) demand is genuine and the state leadership knows about the issue. We are hopeful that their ST status demand will be fulfilled soon.”
When asked about the anger among the Kurmis, he said, “There is no base to such claims. They are with us.”
For several decades, the Kurmis were used by various political parties in the name of fighting for their long-pending demand of ST status. “We felt that we were fooled by various political parties. Unfortunately, no one so far managed to get our community listed in the ST category. Therefore, in the coming assembly polls, we have decided to vote for the party which will stand for us in granting the ST status,” said Anup Mahato, president of Adivasi Kurmi Samaj in Jhargram.
He said, “In this Lok Sabha election, we were against TMC because some of the party leaders were against our demand. Therefore, TMC’s Beerbaha Soren lost the Lok Sabha. In this winter session of Parliament, we are hopeful that our matter will be raised by political leaders whom we supported. If not, then we will wait and watch before supporting other political parties.”
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