UPDATED: January 21, 2021 11:22 IST
Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee was on a two-day visit to West Bengal’s tribal belt. On Tuesday, she addressed a public meeting in Purulia, and a day after, in Bankura district. Both these districts are part of what is known as Jangal Mahal, once a hotbed of Maoist insurgency.
Through her campaigns, Mamata is emphasising on those remote villages, the home of poor tribal people of Bengal. What could be the reason behind her emphasis on these villages or constituencies?
In the last Lok Sabha election, BJP had taken a large number of these tribal votes in their account. Traditionally, the tribal votes were secured by the Left as the Leftist were directly involved and were part of the tribal movement that fought for the tribal people who were socio-economically backward, were Christian tribal, non-Christian tribal. There were different sects of tribal community they were fighting for.
But Mamata eventually managed to get the vote bank transferred in her own favour and became the Chief Minister of Bengal. Now BJP is also trying to secure the tribal votes for the upcoming election. According to Census 2011, in West Bengal, the tribal population is 52,96,963 which 5.8% of the total population of the state.
The tribal population in Bengal is mostly concentrated in the four Jangal Mahal districts of Purulia, Bankura, West Midnapore and Jhargram, and the North Bengal districts of Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Cooch Behar. Significant tribal population can also be found in Hooghly and Birbhum districts.
Recently, Amit Shah had lunch with a tribal family at their house in Bankura district. Mamata’s strategy is to visit those same places and ensure not much damage is done. Her strategy is You (BJP) are going to give a misconception, I’m going to present the real story. Mamata says having lunch with a tribal family is BJP’s election stunt. She has promised pucca houses and free ration for tribals, and sops for migrant tribal labourers.
Mamata is also invoking tribal legend Birsa Munda to woo the tribals. She has demanded that November 15, the birth anniversary of Munda, be declared a national holiday. This year onwards, it will be a state holiday in Bengal.
Incidentally, 84 of the total 294 assembly seats in Bengal are reserved for SCs and STs, and in most, the BJP had secured leads in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. In the last Lok Sabha poll, the Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes of Purulia, West Midnapore, Jhargram, Bankura and Birbhum backed the BJP, which won five of the eight seats in these districts.
Mamata has implemented various development and education programmes for the tribal people, even announcing a special package for the tribals of Jhargram. The Jhargram district, which has a significant tribal population, was carved out of West Midnapore district in 2017 for the overall development of tribals.
Also, in Jhargram Mamata Banerjee handed over state government land to Ramakrishna Mission, which works among the tribal population. She has also involved various NGOs for tribal development.
Initially, Mamata coordinated the development activities in Jangal Mahal herself, but as she gradually shifted focus towards other administrative activities, chaos broke out among the bureaucracy and party in the lower levels. Goons infiltrated the organisation and enjoyed a free run, which disrupted peace in the area.
In this chaos, RSS and various outfits backed by it, such as Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram stepped in to fill the void and carried out various development activities. These organisations already had a presence in Bengal’s tribal belt and they capitalised on it.
Jangal Mahal was once the stronghold of Maoists and Mamata was credited with bringing an end to the insurgency in the region and ushering peace. She has now deputed education minister Partha Chatterjee on a tour of Jangal Mahal to understand the grievances of the people.