Lok Sabha Elections 2024: After CAA Notification, All Eyes are Set on the Dalit and Tribal Votes in Bengal

Aiming to counter the BJP’s poll plank, the ruling TMC has unveiled a large outreach program ahead of the general elections.
TMC National General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee addressed a crowd of around 3,500 leaders, belonging to the two communities, from all across the state and assembly constituencies on March 12 at the outreach program’s launch in Kolkata.
TMC National General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee addressed a crowd of around 3,500 leaders, belonging to the two communities, from all across the state and assembly constituencies on March 12 at the outreach program’s launch in Kolkata.

New Delhi: Aiming to strengthen relationships with members of the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) groups across West Bengal, the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) on March 12 unveiled a large outreach program ahead of the general elections.

This project is part of the larger campaign that the party is undertaking across all assembly segments.

The Mamata Banerjee-led party posted on X (formerly Twitter), “Today, Shri @abhishekaitc launched the Tapashilir Sanglap: a targeted outreach program meant for the SC-ST communities. It aims to raise awareness about the atrocities inflicted by @BJP4India against them. Additionally, it ensures that community members are informed about all welfare activities guaranteed by the Ma Mati Manush Government.”

TMC National General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee addressed a crowd of around 3,500 leaders, belonging to the two communities, from all across the state and assembly constituencies on Tuesday (March 12) at the outreach program’s launch in Kolkata. 

He informed the leaders about various modules of the outreach program. 

The party in a statement said the campaign, to begin March 15, will be launched at grassroot level for 45 days.

A branded car will be given to a TMC leader who will be mapped to the Taposhilir Sanglap program as part of the “Sanglap” campaign, which will involve holding discussions around the state. 

Sources in the party told The Mooknayak each leader is expected to engage with hundreds of voters daily and conduct at least three meetings each day in every constituency.

By the end of April, the party leadership hopes to have held over 25,000 meetings. The leaders of the SC/ST will let the people know about the efforts made by the party and contrast it with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s alleged dismal performance in its “double-engine” states, where a high proportion of crimes against the marginalised communities are committed. 

For example, the sources said, six SC women are allegedly raped daily in BJP-ruled areas, while 13 crimes against STs are committed nationwide every day.

According to the 2011 census, 5.29 million people in the state were classified as tribal, making up roughly 5.8% of the overall population. The population of the SC was 21.4 million, or 23.51% of the state’s total population, according to the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

The districts of Purulia, Bankura, West Midnapore, South Dinajpur, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling have the densest populations of tribal people. The state has two reserved Lok Sabha and 16 Assembly constituencies for STs. There are 42 Lok Sabha and 294 assembly seats in the state, of which eight and 68 respectively are allocated for the much larger SC population that is dispersed throughout Bengal. However, their impact goes beyond allocated seats.

At a time when most conversations during every election in the state center on how Muslims, who make up about 30% of the state’s population, might vote and whether they would unite or divide, voters from the SC and ST communities find little attention of political parties.

The broad impact of the communities was seen by the previous general elections. Political leaders and analysts argue that the BJP would not have broken the record by capturing 18 Lok Sabha seats in 2019 without the help of the SC and ST voters.

TMC National General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee addressed a crowd of around 3,500 leaders, belonging to the two communities, from all across the state and assembly constituencies on March 12 at the outreach program’s launch in Kolkata.
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The SC classification applies to about 60 Hindu sub-castes. The Rajbanshi, who make up 18.4% of the total SC population, the Namasudra (17.4%) and the Bagdi (14.9%) are the three largest groups among them. 

The larger Namasudra group includes the Matua community, which has been in the headlines since 2019. The majority of Namasudras, who were originally from East Pakistan, fled religious persecution by first coming to India after the Partition and then again after Bangladesh was established in 1971.

The enforcement of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, will certainly have an impact in the state in the upcoming election. The decision will further consolidate the Matua group, which is recognised for having supported the BJP in 2019.

The implementation of the new citizenship legislation is interpreted as an effort to allay concerns raised by Namasudra community about the Centre’s inability to expedite the naturalization of Sikhs, Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis who migrated from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh on or before December 31, 2014.

The SC community in the state supported the BJP en-bloc for the first time in the 2021 Assembly election as a result of Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s promise to implement the CAA and the Center’s welfare programs, which Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee allegedly denied them. 

The SC population remained in Bangladesh after the Partition, while the majority of Hindus from ‘higher’ castes migrated. Over time, they came to India. Ninety-percent of the Dalit community in Bengal are originally from Bangladesh.

TMC leaders indicated that Banerjee took corrective action following an analysis of the decline in the party's Hindu voting base in 2019.

Since the BJP had been waging its pro-CAA campaign among the Namasudras, Mamata established the Namasudra Development Board and the party’s refugee cell, which now has units in every district. She also supplied documents proving land title to refugees residing in colonies. The TMC established separate cells for SC and ST in January, 2021.

To counter the BJP, the state government has given out caste certificates under the Duare Sarkar (government at the doorstep) program. More overt administrative work got underway after the 2021 election in the state. Over 8.4 million caste certificates are said to have been issued.

The lack of development in the areas where members of ST groups have lived in huge numbers for millennia is a major source of concern for them. In 2019, the BJP gained traction in several ST pockets by promising improved governance.

Still, the BJP is worried about a tribal agitation that has gained strength since 2020. Many groups, some of whom are based in the neighboring state of Jharkhand, are advocating for the Constitution to recognize Sarna as a different religion as it differs greatly from Hinduism. A number of agitations to press the Central government to accept the demand have already been held.

Sarna followers worship nature (mountains, trees, etc.) rather than idols. In an effort to have a different religion code for the tribal population, the Jharkhand Assembly passed a special resolution in 2020 and sent it to the Central government. The then Chief Minister Hemant Soren had traveled to Bengal as well and spoke against the Centre at a Santhal rally.

However, TMC leader Saugata Roy asserted that the BJP’s attempts to win over the marginalised segments would fail. “The BJP may try its hardest to promote identity politics, but it won’t succeed in Bengal,” he told The Mooknayak

The communities, according to him, are aware that only their representatives will be elected, and that they have reserved seats. “Why are they going to be duped?” he asked.

Election analyst and political science professor Udayan Bandopadhyay, who teaches in Kolkata, said the SC community will largely favour the BJP because of the implementation of the CAA.

“Although it is impossible to forecast the outcome of the tribal votes, the SC communities have found a solution to the issues they used to encounter when establishing their Indian citizenship. And therefore, they may cast their votes for the BJP,” he said.

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