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Matua Mahasangha maelstrom: Family feud fuels political powerplay in Matua bastion

PTI |
May 19, 2024 12:38 PM IST

Matua Mahasangha maelstrom: Family feud fuels political powerplay in Matua bastion

Bongaon , The Matua Thakurbari family, the socio-religious cornerstone for the community, is entangled in an internal power struggle over the control of the All India Matua Mahasangha, affecting political alliances and the community's electoral influence in Bongaon, a stronghold of the sect in West Bengal.

Matua Mahasangha maelstrom: Family feud fuels political powerplay in Matua bastion
Matua Mahasangha maelstrom: Family feud fuels political powerplay in Matua bastion

As political struggle for Matua support intensifies, the Thakur family's internal conflicts, combined with the broader strategies of the TMC and BJP, are poised to significantly influence the future of electoral politics in Bongaon.

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The Matua sect, founded by Harichand Thakur, commands the loyalty of approximately 1.75 crore people, a critical demographic in Lok Sabha constituencies such as Bangaon, Barasat, Ranaghat, Krishnanagar, and Cooch Behar.

The feud within Thakurnagar’s first family is both a political battle and a struggle for control over the Mahasangha, the leading body of the Matuas, currently split into two factions led by Bongaon BJP MP and Union Minister Shantanu Thakur and TMC Rajya Sabha MP Mamata Bala Thakur, respectively.

"More than a political feud, it is a fight for Thakurbari's control, as the person who controls it not only wields socio-religious influence but political influence too," political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty said.

Thakurnagar witnessed dramatic scenes in April as supporters of both Shantanu and Mamata Bala came face to face over the control of a house where sect's matriarch Binapani Devi, known as 'Boroma', lived until her death five years ago.

According to Mamata Bala, the incident happened when Shantanu and his supporters allegedly tried to take control of the house, where she presently resides.

However, Shantanu’s justification was despite him being one of the legal claimants of the property, "Mamata Bala Thakur has been illegally occupying the property and even turning a portion of it into a TMC party office."

"I am one of the heirs as the grandson and have full right over half of this property. But Mamata Bala has taken full control of it illegally," he had alleged.

Shantanu is the grandson of Binapani Devi, while Mamata Bala Thakur is her daughter-in-law.

Followers of a Vaishnavite sect, Matuas started migrating to West Bengal in the 1950s and after the formation of Bangladesh, primarily due to religious persecution.

After Rajbanshis in North Bengal, the Namasudras, which also include the Matuas , are the most significant SC community of the state.

Since the '90s, political parties have courted the support of Matuas, whose substantial population and tendency to vote cohesively.

The history of Thakurbari family reveals the complexities behind their ongoing feud.

Matuas were first recognised as a significant voting bloc by the CPI in the early 1990s. During the Left Front regime, Kapil Krishna, Boroma's eldest son, was known for his close ties with Left leaders.

However, as political winds shifted in Bengal, the TMC reached out to the Thakurbari, recognising its influence over nearly 30 assembly segments.

In 2011, TMC leader Mamata Banerjee nominated Manjul Krishna Thakur, Shantanu's father, as a candidate. He was subsequently inducted into her ministry as a minister of state. After TMC came to power, Kapil Krishna too shifted his allegiance to TMC.

However, the sudden death of Kapil Krishna in October 2014 triggered a bitter family feud. His widow, Mamata Bala Thakur, and his brother-in-law, Manjul Krishna, found themselves at odds over the succession.

Manjul Krishna wanted his youngest son, Subrata, to be nominated for the by-election from Bongaon. However, the party leadership chose Mamata Bala instead.

Miffed, Manjul Krishna resigned from the state cabinet and joined the BJP. He secured a BJP ticket for Subrata to contest the seat in February 2015, but Subrata finished third.

Although Manjul Krishna returned to the TMC a few months later, he was never reinstated in the ministry.

Instead, party affairs in the area were handed over to Mamata Bala, the newly elected TMC MP from Bongaon.

In the 2016 assembly polls, Manjul Krishna was denied a ticket, and his youngest son Shantanu found himself marginalised in Thakurbari politics.

According to Mahitosh Baidya, general secretary of the All India Matua Mahasangha and a member of Shantanu Thakur's faction, it was this marginalisation that exacerbated the family feud, ultimately prompting Shantanu to join the BJP.

"When Mamata Bala Thakur was MP, a lot of atrocities were committed on Shantanu Thakur and his family. They faced an existential crisis. Everything changed after he was implicated in a false case," he told PTI.

Baidya alleged that Mamata Bala had then used his political clout to take control over the entire Thakurbari and its vast property worth hundreds of crores of rupees.

"Shantanu then realised that if he has to survive, he has to be with a political party and that’s how he came in touch with the BJP. The rest is history," he said.

Shantanu won the Bangaon seat, defeating his aunt Mamata Bala by a record margin. His victory also secured his leadership of the Matua Mahasangha, reinforcing his political influence.

Shantanu’s political ascendancy was bolstered by Mahasangha's decision to appoint only a "true descendant" of Binapani Devi as its head, effectively sidelining Mamata Bala, who lacked a direct blood relation to Boroma.

"The BJP has vitiated the atmosphere of the Thakurbari through its divisive politics," said Mamata Bala, who has been opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act as a "hoax" to fool the Matuas.

Shantanu, who declined to speak about the family feud, said the "CAA is a result of the citizenship movement by the Matuas for the last several decades."

"Those who are opposing CAA can never be a true friend of Matuas," he said.

The Matuas, numbering around 40 per cent of around 19 lakh electorates of Bongaon are the deciding factor. The Bongaon constituency will go to polls on May 20.

This article was generated from an automated news agency feed without modifications to text.

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