BJP and TMC Target Matuas and CAA, Congress’s Prospects Bleak in ‘Matuagarh’ Battle

Srijita Seal, Bongaon

The Bongaon constituency is the only constituency in West Bengal where three of its Assembly MLAs are contesting in this year’s Lok Sabha elections. The reason is simple: all of them share close ties with the Matua community. In East Bardhaman, BJP MLA from Haringhata, Asim Sarkar, is contesting. In Barasat, the BJP has nominated MLA Swapan Majumdar, who belongs to the Matua community and also won from Bongaon South. And in Bongaon itself, the BJP candidate is Shantanu Thakur, the head of the Matua Mahasangh. On the other hand, the Trinamool candidate, Biswajit Das, is also close to the Thakur family. He was the BJP MLA from Bagda, which falls under the Bongaon Lok Sabha constituency. He resigned to become the Trinamool candidate in this Lok Sabha election.

Since its inception in 2009, the Bongaon Assembly has always placed significant importance on the Matua community. The left parties used to win the Assembly seats in this area with the votes of the Matua community. However, back then, the Matua vote bank was not as prominent. The Bongaon constituency was formed by dividing the Barasat seat of North 24 Parganas and the Nabadwip seat of Nadia district. In the first election, Trinamool Congress won. Their candidate was Govindachandra Naskar, a member of the Siddhartha Shankar Ray cabinet. Although Govindachandra won by nearly 93,000 votes, the Trinamool did not nominate him for a second term. In 2014, members of the Thakur family directly entered electoral politics.

Mamata Banerjee’s closeness with the Matua community’s ‘Borma’ Binapani Devi dates back to before the change of regime in the state. In that connection, in 2011, Mamata nominated Binapani’s younger son, Manjul Krishna Thakur, as a candidate from the Gaighata constituency. After Manjul won, she made him a minister. Incidentally, both of Manjul’s sons are now BJP ‘assets’. One of them is Shantanu, who won on a BJP ticket last time and has become a Union Minister. The other, Subrata Thakur, is currently the BJP MLA from Gaighata.

Due to the growing distance between Manjul Krishna and the Trinamool, in 2014, Mamata Banerjee nominated his elder brother and Binapani’s eldest son, Kapil Krishna Thakur, as the Trinamool candidate for the Bangaon Lok Sabha seat. He won by nearly 150,000 votes. From that point on, political conflict entered the heart of the Matua community in Thakurnagar. Within a few months of becoming an MP, Kapil Krishna passed away. In the February 2015 by-election, Trinamool nominated his wife, Mamata Bala Thakur. Subrata contested from BJP against his aunt. Mamata Bala won by over 200,000 votes, while Subrata came third. Because of this conflict, Manjul left the ministry given by Mamata and joined BJP. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP candidate was K.D. Biswas, of the matua community, surprised everyone by securing 244,000 votes from the Matua community, laying the foundation for BJP in the Bangaon Lok Sabha. In the by-election, Subrata was the BJP candidate. The BJP received 24.17% of the vote, while the CPM came second with 26.30%. From that time on, the Matua vote gradually started shifting from Trinamool to BJP.

Then came Shantanu. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Trinamool again fielded his aunt Mamata Bala. Although his brother Subrata came third, Shantanu won with 48.85% of the vote, securing victory by over 100,000 votes. While initially not a minister, Shantanu was appointed as a Minister of State in Narendra Modi’s cabinet during the reshuffle in July 2021. This time too, he is the candidate, but there is no one from his family opposing him.

However, is it accurate to say there’s no opposition from the family at all? Once a member of Trinamool, Biswajit joined BJP under Mukul Roy’s guidance. The reason was clear: his influence over the Matua community was well-known. During that time, Biswajit had regular interactions with the Thakurbari and Shantanu, almost becoming a ‘member of the Thakurbari’. Later, in 2021, Shantanu campaigned for Biswajit. But a few months after his victory, Biswajit returned to Trinamool. Mamata then appointed him as the president of Bangaon organizational district, although technically Biswajit remained a BJP MLA. This time, he resigned from his MLA position to run for the Lok Sabha. However, locals believe Shantanu is more likely to secure the Matua community’s votes than Biswajit. Nevertheless, Trinamool is not lagging behind as a party. Even though they did not field a family member for the Lok Sabha, they had already sent Mamata Bala to the Rajya Sabha, and she fully supports Biswajit.

However, another issue closely tied to the Matua vote is the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The refugee Matuas have always been vocal about their demand for Indian citizenship. During the last assembly elections, Shantanu had conflicts within his party asking why the CAA implementation is not occuring. When Mukul or Kailash Vijayvargiya’s mediation didn’t work, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had to intervene. He promised that the Center would take initiative after the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, much time passed. Finally, on March 11, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the Center issued a notification for the implementation of the CAA.

Initially, Shantanu and his supporters were reassured. However, as the election approached, questions arose about whether the CAA was beneficial or detrimental for the vote. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been incessantly warning CAA will not be implemented by the state.On the other hand, Shah, during his visit to Bongaon, challenged this by stating that the state does not have the power to stop the CAA. Prime Minister Modi also claimed in his rallies in Bengal that the CAA would be beneficial. Meanwhile, the Trinamool has been emphasizing that the CAA will create future problems. The CAA will likely influence the election results in many constituencies across the state, not just in Bongaon. Although it’s also true that Trinamool’s candidates Biswajit in Bongaon and Mukutmoni Adhikari in the Ranaghat Lok Sabha constituency might face difficulties as once they were strong proponents of implementing the CAA from the BJP platform.

In this election, both parties are vying for the Matua vote. Both sides hope that the CAA issue will harm their opponent. Will the joint candidate have any role in this single-minded pursuit by the two major parties?The statistics indicate that Congress candidate Pradip Biswas received 1.61% and CPM received 6.40% votes from 2019. Both the election atmosphere and the numbers suggest that in Bongaon, Congress has no future in this election.

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