The Matuas form 17% of the population and can sway votes in 40 Assembly seats.

 

NEW DELHI: Both the BJP and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) are leaving no stones unturned to woo the Matua community of Bengal that roughly constitutes 17% of the population and can sway votes in at least 40 Assembly constituencies in the state in the upcoming 2021 Assembly elections in the state.

Union Home Minister and former BJP national president Amit Shah, who visited Bengal last month, met with members of the Matua community and even had lunch at a house belonging to a member of the community. He even offered prayers at the Matua temple in Kolkata, indicating that the BJP is in favour of the development of the community and that if the party comes to power in Bengal, they would take the community along the path of development.

To counter Amit Shah’s visit to the Matua household in Kolkata, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee reached the Matua headquarters in Bongaon in the North 24 Parganas district earlier this week.

Addressing a rally from Bongaon, Banerjee said that the BJP is trying to divide the community and that she would never allow the BJP to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Registrar of Citizens (NRC) in the state. She said, “You all are already citizens of India, you don’t need any more certificates to prove that you are Indian. They (BJP) are just creating confusion and remember, thousands of Hindu Bengalis’ names have been deleted from the NRC list in Assam.”

The BJP is quite clear that the CAA and the NRC would be implemented in Bengal and that the process would soon be started by the Central government. The BJP has said that it is the right of the Matua community to be called the rightful citizens of India which would be guaranteed to them through the CAA. Permanent citizenship has been a long-standing demand of the Matua community in Bengal who are classified as Scheduled Castes. The people from the community are locally known as Namashudras or lower caste Hindu refugees who had migrated to India from the neighbouring Bangladesh due to the religious persecution they had been facing there. There had been waves of migration of the Matua community from Bangladesh into India starting from 1947 and one of the largest chunks of this community moved to India during 1971.

Why are the Matuas important for BJP and TMC?

The Matua community is concentrated mostly in the North and South 24 parganas of West Bengal with also some scattered population in districts such as Cooch Behar, Uttar Dinajpur, Malda and Nadia. The community holds sway over around 40 Assembly constituencies in Bengal, most of which are again concentrated in the North and South 24 parganas.

Out of these 40 Assembly constituencies, in the last 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP was leading in at least 26 of these constituencies. Therefore, both the parties in Bengal are trying to reach out to them to garner their support.

Biswanath Chakraborty, a political analyst from Bengal, told The Sunday Guardian, “Matua as a caste identity developed after Mamata Banerjee came into power in the state in 2011. Before this, of course, their presence was there, but as a separate political identity, it was not that important. Their political importance emerged after 2011. Now, both the TMC and the BJP are trying to woo this community, knowing that they are a dominant factor in a good number of seats in the state. Both of them are trying to address the identity aspect of the community. So, apart from the political aspect, both the political parties are also touching their identity and their cultural aspect to show that each one cares for them, more so that they can get their support in the next Vidhan Sabha elections.”

Matuas were initially with the Congress and after 1977, they turned to the Left and had supported the Left in Bengal for a very long time. But the Left had never openly sought blessings from the community to portray that the Left did not believe in caste and identity politics.

The Matuas, who were unhappy with the Left, moved to the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC and in 2010, the then Matua matriarch Boro Ma had openly pledged support to Mamata Banerjee and her party. She had also made Banerjee the chief patron of the Matua Mahasabha.

Matuas have their headquarters in Thakurnagar, in the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal and this is considered the “holy seat” of the community where the family members of their revered god, Harichand Thakur of the Matua Mahasangha resided.

The CAA and NRC factor

The CAA and the NRC would play a deciding factor in which way the members of the community vote. The CAA and NRC come as an important factor since most of the members of the community are Hindu refugees who had migrated from Bangladesh into India for fear of religious persecution and ever since then, they have been living in India as “refugees” and asking for permanent residency in India.

The Union government had last year passed the CAA in Parliament that promises to give the Matua community permanent citizenship in India and according to political analysts from Bengal, the BJP considers this as a masterstroke as it would be fulfilling the communities’ long-standing demand.

However, there have been many apprehensions about the implementation of the CAA and the NRC in the state. Many members of the community are getting restless with the delay in the implementation of the Act in Bengal.

Biswanath Chakraborty said that the CAA would definitely be an important factor for the Matua community, since it was their long-standing demand and that they were hoping that the BJP government would implement them soon in their state.

“If the Central government can bring in some rules before the elections for the implementation for the CAA, that will definitely give an advantage to the BJP. If they fail to start the process, there will be a question mark on whether the total support from the Matua community would go in favour of the BJP. The Matua leaders want the Central government to implement the CAA immediately. If the Central government starts the process of implementation now, it would help the BJP,” Chakraborty told this newspaper.