Srijita Seal,Bongaon

The Matua vote bank is a significant factor in the Gaighata constituency of North 24 Parganas. The Matua Thakurbari, the principal place of the Matuas, is located here. In the last Lok Sabha elections and the subsequent Bidhansabha elections, the Trinamool Congress faced a disastrous defeat in the Gaighata constituency. The reason behind this failure was the massive support from the Matua community tilting towards the BJP, as well as a shift of left-wing votes towards the BJP. Corruption and nepotism among some party leaders are also considered reasons for the Trinamool Congress’s defeat in the last Lok Sabha and Bidhansabha elections, according to many within the party.

The central government has issued a notification regarding the implementation of the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act). The BJP is using this as their focal strategy to attract the Matua community. On the contrary, the TMC has intensified its counter-campaign by claiming that applying for CAA will result in individuals losing all their citizenship rights.

Gaighata was once a stronghold of the Trinamool Congress. The party’s dominance in this constituency began with the 2001 assembly elections and continued uninterrupted until the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In that Lok Sabha election, BJP candidate Shantanu Thakur took a lead of nearly 36,000 votes in Gaighata. This winning trend for the BJP continued in the 2021 Bidhansabha elections as well, with BJP candidate Subrata Thakur winning by approximately 10,000 votes.

In the Gaighata constituency, the Trinamool leadership has left no stone unturned in their efforts to regain their past prestige. A large number of the party’s leaders and representatives have been actively involved in the campaign. After the last municipal elections, Biswajit Das, TMC’s Organizational District President of Bongaon, was nominated as the Trinamool candidate for Bongaon in the present Lok Sabha election. He has focused on strengthening public relations in the Gaighata area.

In the 2001 Bidhansabha elections, the Trinamool’s victory march in the Gaighata constituency began under the leadership of the former state food minister Jyotipriya Mallick. From 2001 to 2011, Jyotipriya was the MLA of this area. Jyotipriya has always had a significant influence here. Now, the former minister is confined in jail. His followers are disheartened and were not seen much in the campaign. Some complaints have been raised that a section of the Trinamool is not active. Biswajit says, “Despite the MLA and MP here being from the BJP, no development has taken place. They had not communicated well. However, this time we are going to get a lead of 15,000 votes from here.”

The BJP leadership’s concern stems from the recent municipal and panchayat elections, where the Trinamool secured victories in the Gobardanga municipality and all ten panchayats. The BJP blamed that their failure was an effect of the dirty politics of the incumbent government. However, many in the political sphere argue that merely attributing failures to external factors like terrorism cannot conceal the BJP’s own organizational shortcomings. There are allegations of a lack of coordination among the BJP’s leaders and representatives in the region. Shantanu Thakur’s efforts to strengthen the party’s organizational structure have been questioned. Not all BJP members were actively engaged in the campaign, despite some visibility in publicity efforts. There were discussions within the party about the perceived distance between BJP MLA of the Gaighata constituency, Subrata Thakur and his brother Shantanu until the announcement of the Lok Sabha elections. The State’s opposition party leader Subhendu Adhikary intervened this by holding a meeting at Matua Thakur Bari to address this issue.

Despite these challenges, BJP’S Organizational District President Debasish Mondal, of the Gaighata constituency, Bongaon, is optimistic about the outcome, he emphasized, “We have no discord within our party. Everyone in the party is fighting against the Trinamool’s corruption and in support of Modiji. From this centre, this time we will lead by a margin of more than thirty thousand votes.”

In the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in Bongaon, a left-Congress alliance has been formed. Congress’s candidate for the seat is Pradeep Biswas. Before the formation of Trinamool in 1998, Congress was quite influential here. In the 1991 assembly elections, Congress candidate Prabir Bandopadhyay emerged victorious and became an MLA. Congress’s decline began from 1998. After 2011, the Congress organization virtually disintegrated. While there are still some scattered supporters, there is no organizational strength left.

Historically, this area was a stronghold of the CPI(M) or the left. From 1977 to 1991, the left won in the assembly elections here. Since the 2011 assembly elections, there has been a significant decline in the CPI(M)’s influence here. Many CPI(M) and CPI workers and supporters have switched to Trinamool. This trend continues, although efforts are being made to strengthen the organization. The younger generation has become more active,  party’s leaders claimed. Amid the Amphan and pandemic, left workers had come forward to provide food to people. Continuous programs have been initiated.

Ramen Adhya, a member of the CPI(M) in North 24 Parganas stated, “In the Gaighata constituency, people’s overall support for us has increased this time. A significant portion of the votes that had shifted towards the BJP from the left will now come back to us. Similarly, many of the votes that had gone towards Trinamool from Congress will also return. With all these factors combined, our prospects in the Gaighata assembly will be favorable this time.”

However, in ‘Matuagar’, Trinamool has placed its trust in Biswajit, who has experience of contesting elections from the Panchayat to the Bidhansabha Elections. He has experience of winning in the assembly elections as a candidate of Trinamool and BJP. He briefly explored the BJP camp but returned to Trinamool shortly after. Trinomool has nominated Biswajit Das as their candidate from Bongaon for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Biswajit started his political career in the Congress as a youth leader. Since the inception of Trinamool in 1998, he has been actively involved. That year, he won from the Gopalnagar Panchayat as the opposition party leader. In 2003, he became a member of the Panchayat again. The following year, he also served as the Block President of Gopalnagar. In 2008, he became the president of the Bongaon Panchayat Committee.

Once, Biswajit was a close associate of Jyotipriya in the district’s politics. After the state’s political upheaval in 2011, he became the Trinamool MLA from Bongaon North constituency. He also won from the same constituency in 2016. Biswajit’s political life was full of theatrics. Despite gaining popularity and fame in politics from Trinamool, he ventured into the Saffron camp. Before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Biswajit went straight to Delhi and joined the BJP. At that time, Shankar Adhya was the chairman of the Bongaon Municipality. He left the party along with several councilors.

In 2021, Bishwajit became an MLA from Bagda on the BJP’s ticket. However, Bishwajit did not gain as much prominence in the district’s politics. He didn’t waste any time in breaking away from the Saffron camp. Even during his tenure as the BJP’s MLA, he showed respect to Mamata Banerjee by touching her feet. Such behavior by him left other BJP MLAs astonished. Since then, the countdown for Bishwajit’s return home had begun.

In that same year, Bishwajit returned home. Since then, he has been involved in establishing public connections in the Bagda area. In 2022, the Trinamool Congress entrusted him with the responsibility of being the Bongaon’s District Organisational President. Since then, Bishwajit has become a close confidant of Abhishek Banerjee. After receiving the responsibility of the party’s district organization president, Trinamool, he won the Bangaon municipality and panchayat elections. Bishwajit Das himself is not a member of the Matua community. However, he has various connections with the Thakur family, the central hub of the Matua community. He has become a member of the Matua committee. According to Bishwajit, “The people of Bangaon will be in favor of the Chief Minister’s visionaries. They will vote against the BJP for implementing the CAA.”

On the other hand, in the upcoming parliamentary elections, Shantanu Thakur has been nominated as the BJP candidate from Bangaon. His familiarity primarily rested within a limited circle of friends and close associates. However, now, the BJP places the utmost trust in Shantanu, surpassing even the control of Trinamool over Bangaon. He defeated his aunt Mamatabala Thakur in the parliamentary elections and subsequently became a central minister. Now, Shantanu has become the poster boy.

In 2008, he went to Australia. He stayed in Sydney. He pursued an advanced diploma course in Hospitality Management from the Carrick Institute of Education, affiliated under Victoria University. He returned to the country in 2012 and continued to stay at Thakurnagar. Shantanu Thakur’s life revolved around familiar friends and close associates. Everything changed in 2019 as the BJP bet big on Shantanu, the scion of the Thakur family, to wrest Bangaon from Trinamool’s grip.

He defeated his aunt Mamatabala Thakur and reached the parliament. He became a central minister. Over the next five years, slowly but surely, Shantanu’s posters started appearing on the Matua issue. The party has already sent him for campaigning as a star campaigner in Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Andaman, Odisha, and Karnataka. This time, in the fifth phase of elections, Shantanu has already set his sights on his center.

Bangaon is inhabited by the Matua and lower-caste communities. Almost 45% of the votes belong to these communities. The MP of the Bangaon center was Mamatabala Thakur, the daughter-in-law of Boroma Binapani Devi. While contesting against Mamatabala Thakur, he came to the attention of the Saffron camp. Initially, Shantanu was not interested in politics. Instead, he openly stated that he wanted to free Thakurbari from politics.

On March 5, 2019, Boro Ma passed away. Following her demise, he became increasingly involved in politics. In the Thakurbari where Trinamool dominance had been unchallenged for so long, Shantanu decided to join the fray. Political battles led to a division within Thakurbari.

After defeating Mamatabala, Shantanu became a Member of Parliament. After that, BJP stirred up a controversy in Bangaon by talking about granting citizenship, which took the center quite some time to make effective. Shantanu never hid his dissatisfaction regarding this issue. It has also been seen openly. Finally, before this election, the center announced the effectiveness of the CAA.

Shantanu is ecstatic. However, West Bengal’s CM continuously raised questions regarding the unconditional granting of citizenship. Many in the political arena suggest that Mamata’s aggressive campaigning could backfire on the BJP, although Shantanu has vehemently opposed that notion. Befpre the votes his supporters took control of Thakurbari. Mamatabala was forced to leave the house. Shantanu locked the doors of Boroma’s temple, which sparked criticism. However, Shantanu paid no heed to all these. He is now the poster boy for the Matuas. He wants to stay boldly in politics.

According to Shantanu, the Matuas want BJP. So the future of Matuas’ votes lies in their hands.

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