Prominent Rajbanshi leaders and parties with clout in the community in north Bengal are using their support base as the bargaining chip with both Trinamul and the BJP ahead of the July 8 panchayat polls.
In the rural polls, the Rajbanshi community’s support matters in at least four districts of this region.
Bangshibadan Barman, who heads a faction of the Greater Cooch Behar Peoples’ Association (GCPA), has come up with a rider before extending support to Mamata Banerjee’s party.
“The state government has decided to recognise 200 Rajbanshi-medium schools in the region. Each school has four teachers. But the state has not yet come up with approval that gives government recognition to these institutions. If this approval is not given immediately, we will not support Trinamul in the panchayat elections,” said Barman, who also chairs the welfare board and language academy of Rajbanshis formed by the Trinamul government.
Ananta Maharaj, who heads the other faction of GCPA, sounded “less interested” in the panchayat polls.
“We are not concerned about the rural elections as it has nothing to do with our principal demand (for a state or Union territory),” he said.
Ananta, who backed the BJP earlier in Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, wants to know if the Centre is mulling his demand, opined a political veteran of Cooch Behar.
“There is no specific instruction to his supporters on whom to vote in the rural polls. He may later come up with a decision to exert pressure on the BJP,” the source said.
The two KPP factions — Kamtapur Progressive Party and Kamtapur Peoples’ Party (United) — are yet to decide on the issue. A meeting of the common forum of both parties would be held soon for a decision, said sources.
In earlier rural polls, both these parties had fielded candidates, especially in the two lower tiers. Sources said there “was pressure” from supporters to field candidates.
“There is pressure from the supporters (of the KPP factions) as many of them want to contest the panchayat elections. It would be interesting to see whether these parties stand with Trinamul or the BJP after putting their candidates in some seats or simply stay silent,” the observer added.
In such a situation, both the BJP and Trinamul are vying for the support of the GCPA and the KPP supporters at local levels, insiders said. Their leaders, however, claimed that most of the Rajbanshis are with them.
Local BJP leaders vouched for Rajbanshi support. “The Rajbanshis are with the BJP, as was evident in Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. We are confident they will back us in the rural polls. These elections are important for us as parliamentary elections will be held next year,” said Sukumar Sarkar, the district BJP chief.
Trinamul spokesperson in Cooch Behar Partha Pratim Roy reminded Barman, the GCPA leader, of what chief minister Mamata Banerjee has done for the Rajbanshis.
“Mamata Banerjee has done a lot for the Rajbanshis and they will stand by her. He (Barman) should also remember that he holds two key posts,” Roy said.