KOLKATA: The race to win the hearts and minds of Bengal’s tribals, who account for 6 per cent of the state’s population, ahead of the next Assembly elections has already begun. With Union Home Miniser Amit Shah sounding the poll bugle during his recent visit to Kolkata, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has hit the ground running with an eye on the tribal vote. Not to be left behind, the Trinamool has also firmed up plans to win over the Adivasis and other backward communities of the state.
Wiser after the saffron party raided Trinamool’s tribal strongholds in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, to the extent that its candidates opened a lead over the ruling party rivals in 13 of the state’s 16 Assembly segments, which have a sizeable contingent of tribal voters, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has identified the Adivasi belt as a focus area for the party, going into the Assembly poll battle in 2021. Over the last few days, Mamata, or ‘Didi’ (elder sister) as she is known locally, has been actively campaigning in the Adivasi belt, even announcing a new state-sponsored scheme aimed at tribal welfare. Her government has also been organising mass wedding events in areas home to sizeable contingents of tribal voters.
Wary of Trinamool’s tribal outreach, BJP’s Alipurduar MP John Barla, an Adivasi, recently met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda, raising problems faced by the state’s tribal and backward communities and discussing measures which could be proposed to win them over. He also put forward a few demands and proposals before Munda to counter Didi’s tribal outreach, which includes building a university for tribal students and a monthly pension of R1,000 for tribal elderly who aren’t covered under state schemes.
“During my meeting with the PM and the Union minister last month, I told them to clear proposals to build a sports academy for tribals, as well as an indoor stadium, community halls and more Eklavya residential schools in areas where the Adivasis are in majority. The minister (Munda) asked me to meet him again with a delegation of tribal leaders for a more detailed discussion,” Barla said. The Adivasis, who were with the Trinamool through electoral battles, between 2011 and 2016, voted en masse for the BJP in the 2018 panchayat polls and the last Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP bagged two tribal-dominated Lok Sabha seats — Alipurduar and Jhargram. In a clear pointer to what lies in store as the poll battle hots up, Trinamool supporters allegedly disrupted and vandalised a mass wedding event for tribals in Malda organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Just two days later, the Bengal government organised a similar event, which was attended by the CM. “I am confident that Bengal’s tribals won’t fall for the CM’s false promises,” Barla said.
Why tribal votes matter
16 Assembly segments in Bengal dominated by tribal voters
13 Tribal-dominated Assembly segments where BJP led Trinamool during LS polls
7 Eklavya model schools (one each in 7 districts)
2,500 Total students at the model schools Rs 1,000 Monthly state pension for tribal elderly
48,55,115 Total number of Adivasis in state
Mamata has promised to build a university exclusively for tribal students BJP has also promised to build a sports academy, indoor stadium, community hall more residential schools for the Adivasis
BJP performance: Some tribal Assembly segments where the BJP led in the LS polls include Madarihat, Kalchini, Nagarkata, Phansidewa, Nayagram, Keshiyari, Binpur, Bandwan, Manbazar, Ranibandh and Raipur. It holds the Alipurduar and Jhargram LS seats, which are dominated by ST voters