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Why are the tribals unhappy with Trinamool Congress?

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal may have won the recent panchayat election hands down, but two districts with a significant tribal population expressed their anger by voting against the ruling party.

What happened?

Tribals of Jhargram and Purulia voted en masse for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Though the TMC eventually won, the gap between the first runner-up and the winner was markedly reduced.In the lowest level of the three-tier rural election (at the gram panchayat level), the TMC got 66% of the contested seats. However, in the tribal districts of Jhargram and Purulia, it bagged 48% and 43% seats respectively. The BJP bagged 18% seats in the State, while scoring 42% and 33% in Jhargram and Purulia, inching agonisingly close to the TMC. Jhargram and Purulia have 30% and 20% tribal population, compared with the State’s average of six. Moreover, there are indications that the BJP is getting increasingly close to certain tribal organisations, powerful in certain pockets. The BJP State president went on record to say that they have had a seat adjustment with a tribal outfit in Jhargram.

Is TMC worried?

The panchayat election provides a full-spectrum understanding of the sentiments in the rural areas, as more than 70% of the State’s electors reside in villages. The election results thus have annoyed TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, who immediately turned the heat on her party colleagues. Analysing the near debacle, TMC workers, however, feel Ms. Banerjee was perhaps not in sync with tribal sentiments, and had not taken adequate steps to solve their problems.

What is the problem?

The Chief Minister recommended the transfer of a community, Kurmi Mahato, from the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category to the list of the Scheduled Tribes (STs), following a long-standing demand of the Mahatos who are more empowered, politically and economically. In her letter to the Central government, Ms. Banerjee argued that the “beliefs and socials customs” of the Kurmi Mahatos “closely resemble those of the tribal people.” The idea was challenged by the tribal groups. The other complaint is the one that traditionally ails political parties in tribals areas. The leakage of freebies was unusually high in the tribal areas, it is alleged. The tribals are often not sure of the exact nature of entitlements and many complained that they did not receive the full quota of grain marked for each household.

The depth of this corruption requires investigation, but it has upset the tribals of Jhargram and Purulia. In fact, tribal leaders and even the Ministers do not deny that the party is in “a state of disarray” in the tribal areas. There are leakages in grain delivery, severe infighting among the rank and file and a steady growth of the BJP, they admit.

The BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are traditionally more finely networked in the tribal areas owing to their welfare activity. The RSS is running several schools in the severely backward areas of Bengal which has augmented support for the BJP in the region. Using its networks, the BJP has managed to give sleepless nights to the Chief Minister.

What is the govt. doing?

Ms. Banerjee has reprimanded her party colleagues for failing to understand the changes in the tribal areas and initiated an unprecedented step. The government has decided to use the civic volunteers, the quasi police force, to conduct an extensive survey in the tribal areas to find out if the government’s schemes are reaching the people. The next big election in 2019 will indicate whether the survey was of any use and whether the TMC managed to plug the leakages. The TMC has been winning elections for a decade. In all these years, it foiled attempts to form rival coalitions on the basis of caste, social status, economic benefits or religious identity until now. In these tribal-dominated districts, the TMC was hit by a truckload of complaints.

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Printable version | Nov 23, 2020 11:49:52 AM |

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