In West Bengal’s Jhargram, Decisive Kurmi Voters Swinging Towards Saffron, Leaving Mamata ‘Blue’
Since 1962, political parties have been asking for votes from Kurmis in the name of fulfilling their long-pending demand of granting the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
File photo of a supporter holding Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party symbol. (Image: AP)
Jhargram: In the sleepy hamlet of Jhargram in West Bengal, there is only one big factor that will decide the fate of all three key political forces this Lok Sabha elections — Kurmi, an agrarian OBC community and the most sizeable vote bloc in the constituency.
Of the total 42 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state, Jhargram is one seat which the TMC, BJP and Left are all striving to win by convincing the ‘Adivasi Kurmi Samaj’.
Located nearly 200km from Kolkata, Jambuni’s Borsol and its adjoining villages in Jhargram Lok Sabha constituency (part of Jangalmahal) are dominated by this community, which has nearly 35-40 per cent voters.
The community was also the key political force that helped Mamata Banarjee defeat the Left Front candidate after 42 years in 2014. CPI (M) was in power in Jhargram from 1977 to 2014 but TMC’s Uma Soren changed the tables by by defeating CPI (M)’s Pulin Bihari Baske by 3,47,883 votes.
This time, Banerjee has fielded Birbaha Soren from this ST-reserved constituency as sitting MP Uma Soren failed to live up to the expectations of the Kurmis. Appeasing the Kurmis is also the reason why both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Mamata Banerjee held separate public rallies on May 6 at Jhargram and Gopiballavpur
Since 1962, political parties have been asking for votes from Kurmis in the name of fulfilling their long-pending demand of granting the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. “First, we were fooled by the Congress, then Bangla Congress (1967-71) came in and then there was the CPI (M). The ruling TMC tried but failed. No one so far has managed to get our communities listed in the ST category. This time we have decided to vote for those who will stand beside us in granting the ST status,” said Rajesh Mahato, secretary, West Bengal Adivasi Kurmi Samaj.
Hinting that this time the wind is in the BJP’s favour, Mahato said, “As per the Shimla notification in 1913, Kurmis were listed in the ST category. In 1931, they were dropped from the ST list. A fresh list was prepared in 1950 but our community was not listed in the ST category. Since then we have been agitating but despite submitting memorandums to former president Pranab Mukherjee and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, no action has been taken. This is why you will find graffitis in every hut here which reads – ‘Fight for ST, Jai Guram’.”
Last year, the saffron party had managed to make a visible surge in Jhargram during the Panchayat elections, securing nearly 35 per cent votes. The ruling TMC got about 45 per cent votes but trailed in the Jhargram district due to a division in the Kurmi votes. In most areas dominated by the Maoists -- including Jhargram and Lalgarh – BJP won the Panchayat polls. This verdict is a strong indication that Kurmis are looking for a new political option to get their ST demand fulfilled. Given the present circumstances, the BJP has emerged as a strong force against the TMC.
To cement its chances, the BJP has fielded a strong candidate in IIT-engineer Kunar Hembram. CPI (M), on the other hand, is banking on YouTube star Debalina Hembram. Jogeshwar Hembram is contesting on a Congress ticket and Birbaha Hansda, an actor-turned-politician from the Santhal film industry, is contesting for Jharkhand Party (Naren).
The assembly constituencies that fall under Jhargram are Nayagram, Gopiballavpur, Jhargram, Garbeta, Salboni, Binpur and Bandwan. Polling is underway in Jhargram and it would be interesting to see which way the Kurmis swing to get their demand of ST status fulfilled.
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