One of the vote banks that the BJP banked on for its remarkable performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha election was that of the Matua community. The BJP saw victory in the Lok Sabha constituencies like Bangaon, Ranaghat, North Malda, Raiganj, Balurghat, Purulia, Bankura, Bishnupur with the help of the Matua community of displaced but unregistered Hindu refugees. But the question now is whether the Matua vote-bank remains in favour of the BJP, courtesy of the re-election results.
The two Lok Sabha constituencies identified as Matua bastions include a number of municipalities where voting took place. But the result is enough to burn the face of the BJP. Whether it is Bangaon or Chakdaha, Gobardanga or Haringhata, Ranaghat or Gayeshpur, the BJP is burning everywhere. The question is why this is the case.
A section of the BJP claims that the main demand of the Matua community is their citizenship. The BJP had promised to grant these Hindu refugees from Bangladesh citizenship. In 2019, driven by the promise, the Matua voters welcomed the BJP with open arms. But with the Narendra Modi dispensation returning to power in New Delhi for the second time, the main tool for granting citizenship to the Matua people — enacting legislation to enforce the CAA law — has been in suspended animation. The Matua voter is now disillusioned.
Even during the 2021 polls, Amit Shah had visited Bangaon and said that members of the Matua community would be given citizenship. When the vote was over, hope reigned for a while. The Matua people now say that the BJP wants to use them again and again as a vote bank. “They have no desire at all to grant citizenship” is the overwhelming view from this stratum of the demography. That is why in the by-elections, the Matuas voted for the Trinamool Congress, keeping in mind the benefits being on the side of the ruling party would bring to the community besides Mamata Banerjee’s promise of developing their places of habitation.
But there is more to life than meets the eye. And that is the anger of Shantanu Thakur. Thakurbari in Thakurnagar is the epicentre of the religious society of the Matua people. Thakur, the eldest son of the family, is not only a BJP MP but also a union minister of state. He is now the ‘uncrowned king’ of the Matua society. He realises among other things that the saffron camp has no intention of implementing the citizenship promise BJP made to the Matuas. Community members whisper rather that, in order to get the proverbial monkey off their back, the party leadership is now pushing Matua leaders to the margins — from state committees to district-level committees.
There is a denial of the role and importance of the Matua community behind the rise of the largest opposition party in West Bengal in the BJP leadership, which, sources say, is disturbing Thakur whose conduct of late betrays a rebellious streak. Among the multiple factions that have now sprung up in the Bengal BJP, Thakur enjoys the backing of a handful of disaffected groups. Many local leaders think that realising the importance of the Matua people, their role and, above all, the community’s political clout, Thakur is pushing his people’s votes to the Trinamool Congress in municipalities like Bangaon, Gobardanga, Ranaghat, Chakdaha and Haringhata.
The behind-the-scenes move is helping Thakur also to endear to the Trinamool Congress leadership that may embrace him any day. Via channels of the local unit of the BJP, he has practically conveyed to the national party’s leadership how big his constituency is. ‘Value us or forget us’ is the message the MoS has delivered loud and clear to New Delhi as much as to the Bengal BJP leadership.
The writer is a Bengal BJP insider