How BJP made inroads into TMC’s base in Bengal’s former Maoist belt
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How BJP made inroads into TMC’s base in Bengal’s former Maoist belt

Over the past few years, RSS-inspired organisations worked in the spheres of education, health and imparting moral values.

kolkata Updated: May 19, 2018 14:59 IST
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times
Maoist,BJP,West Midnapore
BJP workers celebrating in Jhargram after the panchayat results on Thursday.(HT Photo)

In 2005, Maoists quietly entered the hilly and forested tracts of Balarampur, an impoverished block on the Ayodhya hills in Bengal’s tribal-dominated Purulia district that the CPI(M) and Forward Block ruled with an iron hand for nearly two decades. In remote villages, Maoists taught locals how to farm and build seed banks, provided free private tuition, launched campaign against alcoholism, illegal felling of trees and high-handedness of the ruling party. By 2010, Balarampur and its neighbouring areas became the home to the Maoists’ biggest armed unit in Bengal – a platoon comprising 34 guerrillas.

As the CPI(M) and Maoists bled out each other with a series of political killings in 2010-11, Trinamool Congress established its authority by the end of the panchayat elections in 2013. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee emphasised on raising living standards of the local people.

Read: Amit Shah’s strategy: BJP treating Bengal rural polls as ‘quarter-final match’ before 2021 assembly election

Around this time, another set of people silently began working on social projects in the area. This time they were swayamsevaks of the RSS.

More than a dozen Hari Sabhas (local religious clubs) were formed, while RSS-inspired organisations such as Vanavasi Kalyan Ashrams focussed on running students’ hostels, Shishu Sikhsha Kendra (pre-primary informal schools) and Vanabandhu Parishad increased the number of Ekal Vidyalayas, or tuition centres with one teacher.

Swayamsevaks also started telling local villagers how indigenous agricultural techniques could help farming on small tracts of infertile land.

In the 2018 panchayat polls, Trinamool was swept out of Balarampur, where its face was none else than the state’s western region development minister Shantiram Mahato. Of the 20 seats in Balarampur panchayat samiti (second tier of panchayat system), BJP bagged 18. The saffron party also made a clean sweep of the seven gram panchayats (first tier) and two zilla parishad seats in Balarampur.

Read: Trinamool Congress sweeps panchayat elections at all levels in West Bengal

The former Maoist-dominated areas are spread over 21 panchayat samitis in Purulia, Jhargram, West Midnapore and Bankura districts. “In these areas we have won about 30% panchayat samiti seats and about 35% gram panchayat seats that are far higher than our share in the state as a whole,” said BJP state president Dilip Ghosh.

What’s more, one of the zilla parishad seats saw the chairman of the outgoing zilla parishad, Srishtidhar Mahato, losing by a big margin of nearly 10,000 votes to a political newcomer.

“There was no scope for open political activity in Balarampur. We, the saywamsevaks, focussed on social work. Lately, we started organising the poor people against the tyranny of the ruling party leaders, who indulged in unbridled corruption. The main slogan was freedom from goondaraj,” said Gopinath Goswami, a swayamsevak for about three decades. He joined BJP barely two months ago and became a giant killer by defeating the chairman of the zilla parishad.

Balarampur is not an exception. At Bhimpur panchayat area and its neighbourhood in Salboni, West Midnapore, Maoists ran several free private tuition centres and health camps and dug ponds, irrigation canals, installed tubewells and built kuchha roads during 2009-2011. Since 2013, Trinamool Congress was in absolute control of the area. Since 2014, swayamsevaks started work in the spheres of health, education and moral ‘uplift’.

Read: Stakes are high for Trinamool Congress and BJP in upcoming Bengal rural polls

Bhimpur, too, has turned saffron.

In majority of the areas that were under Maoist influence during 2008-2011, spreading across the districts of Purulia, Jhargram, West Midnapore and Bankura, saffron surged ahead of Trinamool.

RSS and its various affiliate organisations started work in the forested areas of the districts of West Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura and Jhargram during the 1990s but had to retreat after the CPI(M) and the Maoists both targeted them.

“After the tables turned on the CPI(M), Trinamool replaced its hegemony with its own. However, RSS being a social organisation, increased involvement in various social activities and prepared the ground. Now, the stage is set for an open rebellion against the ruling party,” said Sukhamay Satpathy, BJP’s Jhargram district president.

Read: A decade after starvation death, Bengal village lives in darkness due to unpaid power bills

After RSS prepared the ground, Mukul Roy, who had wide contacts in Jangalmahal, lent the finishing touch by persuading disgruntled ruling party workers to sweat it out for the BJP.

Trinamool had no ready explanation for its poor show that came as a rude shock to the chief minister, who was proud of her achievements in the former Maoist-dominated belt.

Salboni MLA Srikanta Mahato admitted ‘people’s grievances against local leaders’. Backward classes welfare minister Churamoni Mahato, whose home turf of Gopiballabhpur went to BJP, was puzzled. Western region development minister Santiram Mahato, whose home turf saw the ruling party routed, blamed ‘outsiders’ from Jharkhand.

“Corruption of local leaders was one of the reasons for a section of the voters going against us. I cautioned the party leaders against it,” said Banabihari Roy, Trinamool Lalgarh block president.

“We’ll review the results. It’s sad that the CPI(M) and the Congress cast all their votes in favour of BJP at the cost of their own organisations,” Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee said.

First Published: May 19, 2018 14:59 IST