A day after Trinamool Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee’s convoy was allegedly attacked by members of the Kurmi community seeking Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday pinned the blamed on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), saying she did not believe that members of the Kurmi community were behind the violence.
“I will set up a Tribal Development Board. For the Kurmis, I have already set up a Board. Whatever the [BJP] is trying to tell, think about that. The way they have engineered ethnic riots in Manipur, they want the same in West Bengal,” Ms. Banerjee said, addressing a public meeting at Salboni in Paschim Medinipur district.
Ms. Banerjee condemned the attack and those involved for their audacity in targeting Mr. Abhishek Banerjee and Ms. Birbaha Hansda, State Minister and representative of the ST community. “They want to create a situation wherein Adivasis will fight Kurmis so that the Army can be called in and the military will have ‘shoot at sight’ orders,” the Chief Minister said.
The State’s Jangalmahal region, forested patches in the south-western parts of West Bengal, has been on the boil over the past few months, with members of the Kurmi community organising protests and blockades over their demand for ST status.
On Friday evening, there was an attack on Mr. Abhishek Banerjee’s convoy. While Mr. Banerjee escaped unhurt, the vehicle in which Ms. Hansda was travelling was severely damaged. Several policemen and Trinamool Congress supporters were injured in the violence.
On Saturday, four persons belonging to the Kurmi community were arrested for the violence, and booked under non-bailable provisions.
While addressing the public meeting which was part of Mr. Abhishek Banerjee’s outreach programme ‘Trinamooler nabo jowar (Trinamool’s new wave), the Chief Minister said her government had written four times to the Centre on the demand of the Kurmi community.
BJP MLA and Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly, Suvendu Adhikari, while addressing a public meeting in Malda said the Chief Minister was responsible for the Kurmi agitation.
The development assumes significance as Kurmis and STs are key to four Lok Sabha seats in the Jangalmahal region.
In the second week of April this year, members of the community organised road and railway blockades for five days in the region. Earlier this month, Trinamool Congress leader Ajit Maity came under severe criticism when he called Kurmis “Khalistanis”. Top leaders in the Trinamool, including the Chief Minister, apologised for the remark by the party leader.
Senior BJP leader and former president of party’s West Bengal unit Dilip Ghosh also faced the ire of the members of the community. Mr. Ghosh’s remark that they had helped the “Kurmi andolan by sending rice and lentils” infuriated members of the community. They had demanded an apology from Mr. Ghosh and held a protest near his residence at Kharagpur in Paschim Medinipur district. State BJP president Sukanta Majumdar apologised for Mr. Ghosh’s remarks.