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How South Bengal has emerged as the latest battlefield between Trinamool and BJP

Sulagna Sengupta | Updated on: 9 June 2018, 4:49 IST
(Arya Sharma)

The southern districts of West Bengal have become the latest battleground between the ruling All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) and the BJP. In the recent Panchayat elections, the AITC's vote share decreased in the south Bengal districts of West Midnapore, Jhargram, Purulia and Bankura, while the BJP's vote share increased.

Now both parties are trying reach out to people in the area. AITC is taking measures to tackle infighting within the party in these districts, on the other hand BJP has set up an Adivasi Samanwaya Manch to reach out to tribals.

On Tuesday, AITC dropped three ministers from the state Cabinet: backward class welfare minister Churamani Mahato, tribal development minister James Kujur and Abani Joardar, who was a minister without portfolio.

The party has asked them to concentrate on organisational work. Mahato was elected four times as the Pradhan of the Gopiballavpur Gram Panchayat in Purulia. He is being sent back to revitalise the party at the grassroots.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has now brought tribal development under her own control, after James Kujur was relieved of his responsibilities.

Rajib Banerjee who was earlier the state irrigation minister has been given charge of backward class welfare replacing Churamoni Mahato. Soumen Mahapatra has replaced Banerjee as the irrigation minister.

After analysing the results of the Panchayat elections, AITC has formed a monitoring committee comprising senior leaders Jyoitipriyo Mullick, Saugata Roy and Chandrma Bhattacharya, who will look after the problems party workers are facing at the ground level. The committee will sit with district level AITC leaders and listen to what workers have to say. The formation of the committee is said to be a direct result of the party's below par performance in South Bengal.

Sources in the AITC also said that CM Mamata Banerjee will be meeting district level leaders at the Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata. She will also be interacting with the district secretaries of the AITC's youth wing.

According to a senior MLA, there's resentment among people against certain MLAs who don't visit their constituencies. Also it has been noticed that since 2013, there has been a disconnect between Panchayat representatives and the people. In some cases, the representatives carried out development works without consulting the people.

Srikanto Mahato, MLA from Salboni in Jhargram, said “A majority of grassroots' workers are not happy with local leaders. The dissidents have either voted for the BJP or fought the election as independent candidates. We have already told the party chief that people who are compassionate towards the development of the tribal population should be appointed in these areas. People's grievances need to be understood”.

According to the statistics received from the state election commission, AITC lost 28 out of 79 Gram Panchayats in the area. In the 16 Zila Parishad seats in Jhargram, BJP secured 3 seats and the AITC 13.
In the Panchayat Samiti at Jhargram BJP secured two seats while the remaining six seats were secured by AITC. At the gram panchayat level, BJP secured 329 seats while Trinamool Congress received 372 seats. At Balarampur in Purulia, out of 20 panchayat samiti seats BJP secured 18 seats.

The AITC is worried of the impact it would have in the Lok Sabha elections due next year.

“The saffron party's inroads into the tribal belt of Jangalmahal and three districts of North Bengal is disturbing because such areas will send five to six MPs to the Lok Sabha. Mamata Banerjee, on the other hand, was aiming to sweep all 42 Lok Sabha seats, so that it pitches her as an important face of anti-BJP forces and give her greater clout in such a coalition”.

Senior Trinamool leaders say that they party was in absolute control of the area around 2013. But after 2014, the BJP and RSS have been able to spread their influence.

Gopinath Goswami a BJP worker in Balarampur said “There was no scope for open political activity in Balarampur. I first worked there as a Swayamsevak. Of late, people have begun speaking against the corruption by the government. This gave us an opportunity to mobilise people in favour of the BJP”.

BJP has set up the Adivasi Samanwaya Mancha (ASM), on the lines of the AITC backed Peoples Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) who are fighting for the development of the tribal community in this region.

Lakshiram Singh Sardar, an independent Panchayat member from Binpur II area in Belpahari, is associated with the ASM.

“Our main motto is to fight for the development of the tribal population in Janagalmahal areas and that is why we have participated in the electoral process,” Sardar said.

The political tussle in the region is said to have taken a violent turn with alleged murder of two BJP workers Trilochan Mahato and Dulal Kumar in Purulia.

BJP national president Amit Shah is expected to meet with the district representatives of Jhargram and give them a plan of action.

Dilip Ghosh state BJP president said “ Amit Shah will visit Jhargram district next week and he will speak with to BJP workers. He is happy with party’s performance in the recently-concluded Panchayat election”.

A day after the death of Trilochan Mahato, Mamata’s nephew and AITC MP Abhishek Banerjee held a rally in Purulia, in which he claimed that AITC will make all efforts to make Purulia “Opposition free”.

The BJP's success in an AITC stronghold like Balarampur in Purulia has clearly incensed the ruling party. To keep her vote bank intact, the AITC government has given a permanent job to Dhritiprasad Mahato, son of People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) leader Chhatradhar Mahato. He has been offered a permanent job at the Lalgarh branch of the Vidyasagar Central Co-operative Bank.

The BJP, on its part, has formed armed groups with the help of the Bajrang Dal, following the death of its workers.

Sayantan Basu, BJP state secretary, said “ Considering the danger posed by AITC it is necessary to form such groups in the village. We have already set up such armed groups at Supurdi village in Balarampur after taking sanction from our central leadership. We are also planning to increase the number of such groups in other South Bengal districts”.

It is clear that the tensions between the AITC and BJP are only likely to increase in the days to come.

First published: 9 June 2018, 4:49 IST