Kolkata: Although it is too early to predict the future trajectory of the Matua movement, Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee appeared to have decided to revive her "lost connect" with the Dalit community that has managed to hold onto its political clout in the state for over two decades.
Banerjee held two rallies on Tuesday at Bongaon in North 24-Parganas and Ranaghat in Nadia district — her first in Matua-dominated areas after the debacle of last year's Lok Sabha elections.
At both the rallies, Banerjee vehemently opposed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed pan-India implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). However, her carefully scripted speech revolved mostly around temples and comparing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership with Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq, the tyrant ruler infamous for his bizarre ideas and cruel ways of implementing them.
Over the last few years, the BJP has managed to break into Banerjee’s support base among the Matuas who dominate about 90 Assembly segments and 10 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Political experts say Banerjee is making a calculated move to win back her voters who seem to have shifted loyalty due to her alleged appeasement of the Muslim community.
Author Kapil Thakur said Banerjee is aware the Matua community has moved towards the BJP, but not because of the citizenship issues.
“Although the Matuas support the CAA and NRC, they started feeling ignored much before the BJP-led central government made any announcement on the issues. Ground-level Trinamool leaders failed to hold on to the confidence of the members of the community and this led to a rift in Matua Mahasangha,” he said.
“Also, Matuas are aware of Banerjee’s appeasement politics and the BJP saw a vacuum in it. We all know how the BJP managed to wrest Bongaon and other Matua-dominated seats from the ruling TMC in the last parliamentary elections," said Thakur. "On Tuesday, Banerjee spoke of her government’s work in temples in Bengal and also compared the BJP with Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq in Ranaghat where a majority of voters is Hindu and belongs to the Matua community.”
Banerjee spoke about the Matua Welfare Board, dedicated colleges and a university, but the fact is the board has been dissolved and the university is yet to come up.
“These are the challenges she needs to take care of to win back their confidence. Hence, she played the temple and Tughlaq cards and this is not the first time she has done this,” he said.
At a recent rally in Cooch Behar, Banerjee, for the first time, spoke about extremists among the minorities. Cooch Behar’s Hindu and Rajbongshi vote share is more than 80% and the veteran politician had that in mind, say experts.
Banerjee even urged party workers to not hesitate in apologising if they had committed any mistake. “I formed the party with a lot of hard work and will not let any small-time leader malign its image. If you make mistakes, go and say sorry to people,” she said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Banerjee gave a detailed list of work done for temples like the Dakshineswar Kali Temple, Tarakeshwar, Kankalitala Mandir, Kachua Loknath Temple and Chinnamasta Mandir. She also spoke about how she had always stood by the Matua community.
“We have helped Anukul Thakur’s (Anukulchandra Chakravarty) followers. We stood by you (Matua) in every crisis for the last 20 years. When I became an MP in 1984 from Jadavpur, I fought for your land rights. I regularised 94 of the refugee colonies and gave land pattas,” she said.
“However, I haven’t come here for votes. We work throughout the year and we are not like the BJP whose leaders beg for votes just before the elections. The railway connectivity here is because of me and not the BJP,” he added.
Regarding the citizenship issue of the Matuas that has helped the saffron camp win votes in the region, Banerjee said, “Why do you need another citizenship when you are already citizens of India? The Prime Minister (Narendra Modi), who calls himself a ‘chowkidar’ (watchman) during polls, is misleading you on the Citizenship Act. Mark my words, CAA will only turn you into a foreigner.”
Banerjee also hit out at the Centre over its handling of the anti-CAA protests. “It is unfortunate the recent firings outside Jamia Millia Islamia and Shaheen Bagh in Delhi were attempts to terrorise peaceful protestors,” she said.
The Matuas have been a deciding factor even during the Left Front’s 34-year rule. Banerjee, who came to power in 2011, had a smooth run in the region during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and 2016 Assembly elections with the blessings of influential Matua leader, late Binapani Devi Thakur.
However, the BJP last year managed to win these seats by playing the citizenship card. Banerjee is aware that any significant division in the community’s vote share could shatter her mission for the upcoming state polls in 2021.