Kolkata: In a bid to curb the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s rise in the Jangalmahal area and regain lost ground, Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee has launched special toll-free numbers, similar to the ‘Didi Ke Bolo’ campaign that would exclusively cater to the grievances of backward people from the tribal belt.
Recently, the State Backward Classes Welfare (BCW) Department launched several initiatives for the redressal of grievances of the people belonging to the backward communities of the state. A special cell was launched along with two helplines – a toll-free number (1800 5727 730) and a number (85829 56555) for WhatsApp and text messaging.
The objective of the initiative is to improve citizen participation and engagement by providing a platform to every backward class people to share their suggestions/grievances for expedited action. Banerjee recently asked the department to ensure that no member of the Scheduled Caste, Schedules Tribe or any other backward class community faces any problem in obtaining his or her caste certificate and other benefits under various government schemes.
Concerns over availing benefits under several schemes in some tribal areas were raised during a meeting Banerjee held with 84 SC/ST lawmakers from all parties on July 2. The chief minister asked officials concerned to expedite the process of disbursement of SC/ST certificates and other benefits.
In recent weeks, the Backward Class Welfare Department has delivered more than 90,000 caste certificates to beneficiaries. Another 40,000 would be given away soon. The department has formed a committee, comprising 23 senior officials, to expedite the process of clearance of applications.
From 2011 to 2018, Jangalmahal (comprising tribal-dominated areas in the districts of Jhargram, Bankura, Purulia, West Midnapore and Birbhum) was a strong bastion of the ruling party in Bengal. However, the scenario has changed since and the BJP has emerged as a strong contender during the last panchayat and Lok Sabha polls.
In 2014, Jhargram was won by TMC's Uma Soren, who had wrested the seat from Pulin Bihari Baske of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), ending the Left Front’s 42 years of domination in the area. In 2019, the ruling camp fielded Beerbaha Soren who was defeated by the BJP’s Kunar Hembram.
According to Election Commission data, even in 2014, when the BJP had lost to the Trinamool Congress, the vote percentage of the saffron brigade has increased to 20 per cent in the Jangalmahal districts. However, the 2016 Assembly elections saw a dip in the saffron camp’s percentage to 17%. Two years later, the panchayat election brought the BJP back to game with a voteshare of 27%.
In the 2018 panchayat elections that were held in May, the ruling party suffered massive losses in Jhargram, Bankura and Purulia, all of which are close to the Jharkhand border, as BJP candidates were declared winners in almost 30-40% of the rural seats. The Trinamool Congress lost 28 of the 79 gram panchayats in the area. Of the 16 zila parishad seats in Jhargram, the BJP secured three seats and the TMC 13.
It seemed the base that the Trinamool Congress made after years of hard work was gradually being lost to the BJP due to the former’s lack of proper monitoring and leadership in the area.
BJP leader Mukul Roy, who had been a close aide of Banerjee before switching sides, told News18, “The TMC took the support of Maoist sympathisers in Jangalmahal and fought against the Left Front. Then Maoist leader Kishenji (Koteswara Rao) came into picture and CPI-M leaders started fearing for their lives. In 2011, Kishenji was killed. After coming to power, the TMC failed to keep the promises it made to the tribal communities. Now, people are angry about the failed assurances.”
“We worked hard in the area and managed to win the confidence of people. This was clear from the results of the panchayat and Lok Sabha polls. Of the 294 Assembly seats, 32 fall in the Jangalmahal area. In the upcoming Assembly polls (2021), we are going to win all the seats here. Such toll-free numbers are not going to save the TMC this time,” he added.
Rubbishing the allegations, TMC leader Colonel (retired) Diptanshu Chaudhary said Jangalmahal saw huge development during Banerjee’s rule. “Starting from health care, education, ration, roads to electrification, there has been development in every sector. Tourism is another area where we made a significant achievement. Earlier, tourists used to worry about going Jangalmahal. That has changed now.”
When asked why despite development, the TMC suffered a massive set back as was evident from the last elections, Chaudhary said, “People were misled by BJP leaders. However, they will not succeed in their game plan in the upcoming Assembly polls.”