It is too early to speculate how West Bengal’s Matua community will affect the upcoming 2021 Assembly elections, but it has undeniably influenced politics in the state by proving its clout over the last two decades.
While political parties shuffle their cards between Muslim appeasement and Hindu sentiments, statistics indicate that the Matuas — a Dalit community in West Bengal — dominated nearly 90 assembly segments and about 10 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
Aware of their strength – which can turn the table for any political party in the polls — TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday tried to revive her ‘lost connect’ with the Matuas with a mega public rally in Bongaon in North 24-Parganas.
Addressing a public meeting at Bongaon’s Gopalnagar, she vehemently opposed the implementation of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in West Bengal.
Banerjee criticised the Centre’s move to implement CAA for its political interests and stated that there was no need for a citizenship certificate from the BJP as everyone, including the Matuas, were citizens of the state.
“TMC will once again form the government in West Bengal with full majority. It is for sure that we will not allow CAA and NRC to happen in Bengal. BJP outsiders are trying to divide Bengal on religious lines. They are distributing money. I would like to request all my people across the state to keep an eye on these outsiders and lodge FIRs against those who are suspicious and involved in anti-democratic activities,” she said at the rally.
“I have met all demands of the Matua people. We are also coming up with a university named after founders of the Matua community Harichand Thakur and Guruchand Thakur. We have also started various schemes to empower women in the state,” she said.
The Chief Minister harked back on her relationship with Binapani Thakur, an influential leader of the community who died in March 2019. “When she was alive, I used to keep regular contact with her to know about her health. She was like my mother,” she said.
Banerjee also announced that the birth anniversary of Harichand Thakur would be declared a government holiday. “What else? I have done enough for the Matuas and am still serving the people despite facing severe fund crunch. Despite doing so much for the people, sometimes, I feel sad and feel like going away. I felt that people don’t want me,” Mamata said.
“I stood by you in every crisis for the last 20 years. When I became MP in 1984 from Jadavpur, I fought for your land rights. I regularised 94 refugee colonies, gave land patta…You don’t have to worry because you are already a citizen of India. Why do you need another citizenship?”, she added.
The Matua were a deciding factor during the Left rule in the state until Mamata Banerjee came to power in 2011. The CM seems to be aware that any significant division in the Matua vote share could jeopardise her party’s ambitions for the 2021 poll.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and in the 2016 Assembly election, it was with the community’s support that the TMC won in Bongaon. However, the winds have changed direction since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when BJP has managed to snatch the seat from the TMC with promises of CAA.