“We should get citizenship soon, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi going to our holy temple in Orakandi in Bangladesh is also an emotional gesture to us,” a family of Matuas visiting their temple in Thakurnagar in West Bengal’s North 24-Parganas district said on Friday.
Matuas, a sect of Hindu Dalits, have not forgotten Modi’s visit to their temple in Thakurnagar — the town is about 70km from state capital Kolkata — before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when he also met Matua matriarch Baro Ma. In that election, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 18 of the state’s 42 states. In the process, it registered a victory in the Bangaon constituency for the first time; Thakurnagar comes under its purview.
Now, during the 2021 assembly elections, there is enthusiasm in Thakurnagar with Modi visiting the sect’s ancient temple in Bangladesh. Matua community founder Harichandra Thakur disseminated his message from Orakandi, where he was born in 1812.
Besides, Union home minister Amit Shah’s promise in the party manifesto of implementing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in the first cabinet meeting of a new BJP government in the state is also resonating among Bengal’s Matuas, who are refugees from Bangladesh and settled here after the Partition. CAA fast-tracks citizenship of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians, and Parsis who have arrived in India from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh before 2015.
News18 caught up with BJP’s Bangaon parliamentarian, Shantanu Thakur, one of Baro Ma’s grandsons, in Thakurnagar as he was about to leave for Bangladesh; he will be present in Orakandi during the PM’s visit there (on March 27). While Thakur did not link Modi’s “pre-scheduled visit” to the West Bengal elections in any way, he strongly argued that it was the BJP that cared for the interests of Matuas and promised big benefits for them in the manifesto. “What has (chief minister) Mamata Banerjee done for Matuas? One of her leaders is claiming four Pakistan can be created by 30% Muslims,” Thakur said. His brother, Subrata Thakur, has been fielded by the BJP from the local Gaighata assembly seat, in what appears to be another outreach effort. Gaighata is a tough seat, which the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) has won since 2001.
Subrata Thakur, however, said the PM’s visit to Orakandi will have a “positive impact” on the elections. “We got a lead of 37,000 votes in the Gaighata assembly segment in 2019 when my brother won the Bangaon Lok Sabha seat. I am confident of winning from here. Also, Matuas hold sway in over 78 assembly seats in the state — where they are 40% to 50% of the population. This support will be the big factor in the BJP coming to power in the state,” he told News18. With the BJP manifesto removing all doubts about CAA implementation, he said, Matuas are rallying behind the BJP. “It has been 74 years and no government helped us get citizenship…Matuas were used as a vote bank. Our community needs ground beneath the feet,” he added.
Subrata Thakur also criticised CM Banerjee, who is opposing CAA. “She says foolish and fake things…(she) thinks everyone else is a fool and that she is the only clever person in the world,” he said.
The BJP’s campaign in the area also focuses on promises made for Matuas beyond CAA – like a corpus of Rs 100 crore for the welfare of refugees; Rs 10,000 per year to each refugee family for five years after they acquire citizenship; a single-window clearance for documents such as Aadhaar card, ration card and voter ID card; a special fund for refugee colonies in Jadavpur, Thakurnagar and Coochbehar; and a monthly pension of Rs 3,000 to Matua Dalpatis. The last promise, of Rs 3000 monthly pension, is getting attention amongst voters of the sect, News18 found in its discussions with locals.
Banerjee’s TMC is trying hard in this area to remain relevant. Banerjee came to power in the state with the support of Matuas in 2011, but then the community shifted towards the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The TMC has tried to highlight alleged inconsistencies in the BJP’s promise of CAA implementation and warned that a National Register of Citizens (NRC) could harm the cause of the Matua community. On the other hand, the BJP hopes that the visuals of PM’s visit to Orakandi on Saturday will lay to rest any doubts or confusion among Matuas.