In battle for tribal votes in Bengal, BJP gears up to counter CM Mamata
The tribal community constitutes six per cent of West Bengal’s total population. Mamata Banerjee is trying to woo the community which had overwhelmingly voted for BJP in 2019 Lok Sabha polls.Updated: Feb 13, 2020 09:28 IST
Assembly elections in West Bengal may still be more than a year away, but the state’s political parties have already started preparing for it. The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is not able to break into its citadel.
Leading the charge is West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, who has now identified the state’s tribal population as a key focus area. Over the last few days, she has been proactively addressing the community which constitutes six per cent of West Bengal’s population.
Aware of Banerjee’s aggressive push towards the tribal population, West Bengal’s prominent tribal leader and BJP MP John Barla met Union Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda on Wednesday to discuss the problems faced by the community.
Barla demanded that the Centre should initiate setting up of a tribal sports academy, more Ekalavya model residential schools, an indoor stadium for sports popular among the tribal people, and community halls in areas where the population is dominated by people from the Scheduled Tribe (ST) community.
“The minister asked me to meet him again in March with a delegation comprising tribal leaders from the state for a more detailed discussion,” Barla, a Member of Parliament from Alipurduar Lok Sabha constituency in north Bengal, said.
West Bengal at present has seven Ekalavya model schools, one each in seven districts, having more than 2,500 residential students from classes VI to XII. There is no tribal sports academy or indoor stadium for sports popular among the tribal people.
Banerjee has, meanwhile, announced monthly pension of Rs 1,000 for senior citizens from the ST community, a university for the tribal people and accused BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) of plotting to convert the tribal followers of Sarna/Sari religion into Hinduism, a charge that BJP and RSS have denied.
“Mamata Banerjee is targeting the RSS when speaking on issues concerning the tribal people because she knows BJP’s success in the tribal belt is largely a result of RSS’ social work at the grassroots level in areas dominated by tribal population,” said political analyst Amal Mukhopadhyay, former principal of Presidency College. “She evidently wants to disrupt RSS’ activities.”
Banerjee’s recent focus is being seen as her bid to recover votes of the tribal people who stood strong by Trinamool Congress (TMC) in all elections between 2011 and 2016 but overwhelmingly supported BJP in the 2018 panchayat polls and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
According to the Lok Sabha election trends, BJP was leading over TMC in 13 of the state’s 16 Assembly segments reserved for STs. BJP won both the Lok Sabha seats reserved for STs - Alipurduar and Jhargram.
Barla said that his party is chalking out strategies to counter Mamata Banerjee’s recently-launched campaign branding BJP and RSS as ‘anti-tribal’.