Kolkata: Why Bankura, many thought, when West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee picked the district for a mega interactive session with one lakh booth workers of her Trinamool Congress, to be held on Tuesday.
The answer, not surprisingly, lies in the party’s preparations for the high-stakes 2021 assembly polls, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) snapping at its heels and pulling out all stops to win the state.
With eyes on the nearly 35.8% Scheduled Caste (SC) and Schedule Tribe (ST) voters in Bankura alone and close to 40% in the entire tribal-dominated Jangalmahal region, the party strategically picked the venue for the event.
Of the state’s 294 assembly seats, 12 are in Bankura. The TMC felt it necessary to organise the booth workers’ congregation here, considering the BJP made significant advances on all these dozen seats during the last Lok Sabha polls.
Not the least, since three-fourths of Bankura is in Jangalmahal, Mamata picked the region because holding the event here will result in ripple effects spreading to the entire south Bengal including Purulia, Paschim Medinipur and Jhargram consisting of 32 assembly seats.
Once a Maoist stronghold, Jangalmahal’s substantial vote bank of the Left Front moving towards it has pushed the saffron brigade ahead of the ruling TMC here in recent years. This helped the BJP create history by securing 18 Lok Sabha seats out of the total 42 in Bengal in 2019.
According to Election Commission (EC) statistics, though the BJP lost to the TMC in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the vote percentage of the saffron party increased significantly to 20% in the Jangalmahal districts. Similarly, in the 2018 panchayat elections, the BJP upped its vote share by 27% in Jangalmahal districts as the Trinamool suffered big setbacks in Jhargram, Purulia and Bankura.
But, over the past few months, the TMC has aggressively managed to regain much lost ground in the refugee and tribal-dominated areas of Jangalmahal, while the BJP is has faced challenges in Bengal with Muslim votes consolidating against it and some resentment following the Centre’s indication of plans to implement a pan-India National Register of Citizens (NRC) in a bid to identify illegal migrants.
Already, Mamata has decided to set up two new commissions for the welfare of SCs and STs, another initiative to counter the BJP’s influence in Jangalmahal.
Modelled after the national commissions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the state panels will be autonomous bodies comprising five members each. The chairperson of a commission will be an official of IAS rank. An IPS officer of DIG rank will also be a part of a panel.
Speaking to News18, TMC spokesperson Colonel Diptanshu Chaudhary (retd), said, “Under the banner of ‘Banglar prahari, aamaar kormi, esho kori rakkha aamaar janmobhumi (My guards, my workers, come, let’s save our homeland)’, the TMC feels that this will help it boost the morale of booth workers in gaining ground in all the 32 assembly seats in Jangalmahal including 12 seats in Bankura and seven each in Jhargram, Purulia and Paschim Medinipur.”
On the BJP’s aggressive moves to take control of Bengal, he said, “Sounds interesting but it is a distant dream. I would like to tell them to stop daydreaming. Recent political developments across the country show how people have rejected the BJP. Look what happened at the national capital (in exit polls). In Bengal, too, people will reject the BJP because there is no one except Mamata Banerjee who understands the pain and suffering of the poor. A lady (Mamata) who spent her entire life in a dilapidated house like a commoner and dedicated her life to serve the poor is remarkable.”
The Trinamool chief will reach Bankura around 1 pm on Tuesday for the event, which will be followed by two administrative meetings in Bankura on February 12 and in Durgapur on February 13.
After the Lok Sabha poll setback, this will be Mamata’s biggest booth workers’ meet, near a field close to Gandheswari River in Satighat area.
A dais has been set up from where Mamata will deliver her speech. A mega kitchen has been prepared to supply lunch for booth workers and leaders. Thousands of folk artistes are also expected to be present and participate with their traditional instruments.
The district administration has already made security arrangements for the event.
Recently, a toll-free number with the tag ‘Aapnaar kautha, aami shrota (You speak, I listen)’ was set up for booth-level workers to understand their suggestions and grievances to strengthen the party.
The initiative is different from the ‘Didi ke bolo (Talk to Didi)’ toll-free number where everyone across the state can call up to connect with the chief minister to air their complaints.