Vote game brings rivals to same dais

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 29.12.10
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Calcutta, Dec. 28: The Matuas today succeeded in doing what the state government or the chambers of commerce could not: getting CPM minister Gautam Deb and the Trinamul Congress’s Mukul Roy on the same dais.

The big message, though, is the new reality of identity politics which has for long helped the CPM electorally but is now being exploited by Mamata Banerjee to erode the Left’s vote bank.

The last time the two rival parties met was in 2008 at Raj Bhavan where chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Mamata were present to discuss the Singur impasse.

The Matua mahasangh rally at Esplanade’s Metro Channel this afternoon was witness to the rare show of the two arch-rivals sharing the rostrum as both have an eye on the community’s massive vote bank, estimated at around four million, for the crucial Assembly polls next summer.

Today, at the Matua gathering, when Deb invited all parties and MPs to jointly go to Delhi to press for the demands of the Matuas, he had their votes in mind.

The Matuas, who are Dalits (mainly Namasudras), are primarily concentrated in the North and South-24 Parganas, Malda, Nadia and parts of Hooghly. They can influence the results in around 35 Assembly constituencies spread across the state.

Deb also tried to allay the fear of the Matuas, who have migrated from Bangladesh, by saying that those among them who are yet to be provided Indian citizenship would not be evicted from Bengal.

In was in pursuance of this exercise — to woo the Matua community — that the state government has recently instituted awards in the name of Harichand and Guruchand Thakur, the “revered souls” of the Matuas. Mamata too has announced a series of sops to court the Matuas (see chart).

Like the Muslims and people belonging to scheduled castes and tribes, the Matuas have been with the CPM all these years. The 35 Assembly constituencies where the Matuas are a factor in elections are among the 70-odd seats reserved for SCs and STs in the state.

Add another 50-odd seats in Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, Birbhum and Hooghly, where Muslims make up large voting blocs and the tussle between the CPM and Trinamul over identity politics becomes clear.

It is for this reason — consolidating her support base among the Matuas — that Mamata today sent Roy, the Union minister of state for shipping, to the programme despite her party’s avowed stand of not sharing the stage with the CPM.

Last year, Roy had walked out of a chamber of commerce meeting after spotting state industries minister Nirupam Sen sitting on the dais. About a month ago, Mamata stayed away from the foundation stone-laying ceremony of a financial centre in Rajarhat despite being invited by Deb.

Asked why Trinamul shared the stage with the CPM today, a party MP said: “After much persuasion, we had managed to elicit the support of a significant section of the Matuas in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections as well as in this year’s civic polls. Earlier, a major part of their votes used to go the CPM way. But the Matua community has realised that Mamata wants to fight for their development. Given their vote bank, we could not afford to stay away from their programme even though the CPM was there.”

The battle for Matua votes has also caused a split in the community. Two factions have emerged, led by the two sons of Matua matriarch Baroma — Kapilkrishna and Manjulkrishna. One supports the Left while the other backs Trinamul.

However, both brothers attended the rally today in an attempt to dispel notions of a rift and send out the message that the community will bargain hard with both the CPM and Trinamul on who would get their support.

The Trinamul leaders who were present today did not address the rally unlike their counterparts in the CPM and the Congress. Other than Roy, Trinamul MP Gobinda Naskar and party MLAs Jyotipriya Mallick and Dulal Bar were present.

Asked why they chose not to speak at the rally, Mallick said: “Mamatadi had strictly told us to inform Binapani Thakur (Baroma) that we won’t use their stage as our political platform. That’s why we didn’t speak. We garlanded her, conveyed Didi’s wishes and her message that she will always be with the Matuas.”