Lok Sabha polls: Why phase 6 in Bengal is crucial for BJP’s target of 30 | Kolkata - Hindustan Times
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Lok Sabha polls: Why phase 6 in Bengal is crucial for BJP’s target of 30

May 25, 2024 05:13 PM IST

In Bengal’s tribal belt Jangal Mahal region, of the eight seats – Tamluk, Kanthi, Ghatal, Jhargram, Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura, and Bishnupur – the BJP in 2019 wrested five – Jhargram, Purulia, Bankura, Bishnupur and Midnapore

Kolkata: For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has targeted 30 of West Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha segments, the sixth phase is being seen as the most crucial in the south Bengal region.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP set a record by winning 18 seats across the eastern state (Representative Photo)
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP set a record by winning 18 seats across the eastern state (Representative Photo)

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when BJP set a record by winning 18 seats across the eastern state, it wrested seven of eight seats in the north Bengal region. In south Bengal, the BJP’s best performance was in the districts that went to polls on Saturday.

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In Bengal’s tribal belt Jangal Mahal region, of the eight seats – Tamluk, Kanthi, Ghatal, Jhargram, Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura, and Bishnupur – the BJP in 2019 wrested five – Jhargram, Purulia, Bankura, Bishnupur and Midnapore. 

Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Sisir Adhikari and his son Dibyendu, who retained their Tamluk and Contai seats, respectively in the East Midnapore district, have switched over to the saffron camp since 2019.

Also Read: Lok Sabha election Phase 6: West Bengal records 54.80% voter turnout till 1 pm

In practical terms, the chief minister Mamata Banerjee-led ruling party controls only one Lok Sabha segment in the sixth phase. Bengali movie star Dipak Adhikari won Ghatal in the West Midnapore district for TMC for the second time in 2019 and remains the party’s star campaigner.

Significantly, of the nine seats, including the two in Kolkata, that go to polls in the seventh and final phase on June 1, the BJP did not win any in 2019. 

“The BJP started making new allegations against me on social media since Thursday because it knows that people are supporting TMC everywhere. BJP is losing,” Adhikari, who has been questioned by federal agencies several times in the cattle smuggling case, said on Friday.

BJP has pitted Hiranmay Chattopadhyay, a former actor and legislator, against Adhikari.

Parts of the vast region bordering Jharkhand and Odisha – where these eight seats are located – used to be bastions of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) during the last years of the Left Front regime and is commonly referred to as the Jangal Mahal. 

Home to a sizeable scheduled tribe (ST) and scheduled caste (SC) population, the region, spread across West Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura and Jhargram districts, is likely to witness a tough electoral battle alongside East Midnapore district on the coastal belt.

Jangalmahal was officially tagged as a backward area for decades since Independence. Promising better governance, CM Banerjee, who came to power in 2011, created the Jhargram district in April 2017 by splitting West Midnapore. She also tackled the Maoist problem and restored peace.

Denied a ticket this year, Kunar Hembram, the BJP Lok Sabha member from Jhargram, which is reserved for STs, joined TMC on May 19.

“BJP is an anti-tribal party. They don’t want to recognise the rights of tribal communities,” Hembram, 61, told the audience at a TMC rally held by the party’s national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee.

In 2019, when the turnout at Jhargram was around 1.4 million, Hembram won the seat in a close contest, defeating TMC’s Birbaha Soren by a margin of only 11,767 votes. This year, BJP has fielded Pranat Tudu, a doctor, against TMC’s Kalipada Soren, a Santhali writer and Padma Shri awardee.

Bengal’s ST population stood at 5.29 million during the 2011 census, accounting for about 5.8% of the total population. Over the last few years, Banerjee created separate welfare boards for tribal communities such as the Santhals, Lodhas and also the Kurmis, who are categorised under either SC or other backward class (OBC).

Also Read: TMC leader allegedly killed in East Midnapore hours before 6th phase of LS polls

Causing trouble for the state government, the Kurmis have been agitating since 2022, demanding ST status. Several Kurmi organisations have taken part in these movements, during which blockades disrupted railway services. Banerjee repeatedly accused BJP of fanning the agitation to cause a divide between SCs and STs. The saffron camp denied the charges.  

A vast majority of the voters in these eight seats are Hindus, who account for 70.54 % of Bengal’s population of 91.3 million, according to the last decadal census held in 2011.

A section of the population at these eight seats also comprises Namasudra and Dalit Matua community voters most of whom, or their ancestors, came as refugees from East Pakistan during Partition and from Bangladesh after the 1971 Liberation War. These communities are clubbed under the SC category.

This demographic feature has brought the recently enforced Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) under focus, with Mamata Banerjee opposing it because Bengal’s SC population stood at 21.4 million, or 23.51 % of the total population, in 2011. 

On May 19, while addressing voters in Purulia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “I promised I would grant citizenship to the refugee families. The nation had been expecting this from us since Independence. TMC is opposing the CAA [Citizenship Amendment Act]. Let TMC, Congress and Left note this down today. You won’t be able to do anything as long as Modi is alive.”  

BJP’s Jyotirmoy Singh Mahato, who won the Purulia seat in 2019 by 200,000 votes is pitted against TMC’s Santiram Mahato, a minister.

Bengal BJP’s chief spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said, “All phases are crucial for BJP, but in phase six, we can only see a clean sweep.”

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