Cut Money, Left Return: Why Bankura Is Make Or Break For TMC & BJP
The BJP sweeped Bankura entirely in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The TMC is now trying to win back lost ground.
In the Ramnagar village in West Bengal's Bankura district, Rani Adhikari Lai works hard at the only tubewell to fill a steel bucket with what looks like red water. "Are you from Kolkata?", asks Rani when she meets The Quint's reporter. "Please come and see how we live. You will understand the difference", she continues, without waiting for an answer.
Rani, is one of the 1,300 residents of Ramnagar, a village which seemed like the microcosm of all civic issues in the district. There was no water, no drainage, no gas, run-down, cramped huts, and most importantly, no jobs. A more accurate thing to say is that Ramnagar, in a nutshell, represents all the problems that the entire district of Bankura has with the ruling Trinamool Congress dispensation in West Bengal. It also explains why in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party won both parliamentary seats in the district, taking leads in all twelve assembly segments.
The district with a scheduled caste population of approximately 32 percent and scheduled tribe population of 10 percent, was the crowning glory of the party’s massive Junglemahal haul in 2019. Since then Trinamool has tried to gnaw its way back in the district, as the BJP tried to hold on to their 2019 numbers.
Cut Money At Duare Sarkar Camps
In Ramnagar, which falls under the Onda constituency of the district, villagers described their village as a “bad village”. “We don’t have any amenities, so all people do all day is fight”, says Rani. Rani grew up in Kolkata, but shifted to Ramnagar after she got married. “It was a love marriage”, she explains. “But it brought me to this hell hole”.
She points at the water in her bucket to show us how contaminated it was with iron. “We boil the water for the kids. But we consume it directly ourselves”, she says.
She then takes us to her kachha house with an asbestos roof that has gaping holes in various places. “We can’t stay here when it rains”, she says. “Look at how small the house is. 5 people live here”, she adds, pointing to her husband, mother-in-law and two children.
When asked if she’d asked for her house to be repaired or applied for a house under the West Bengal government’s Banglar Awaas Yojana (BAY), Rani says that she’s made multiple trips to the panchayat run by the TMC and even approached those at the Duaare Sarkar camps.
The Duaare Sarkar was a pre-election initiative launched by the TMC government – a massive outreach programme whereby 11 state-run welfare schemes would be delivered at the “doorstep” of the people through camps at municipality wards and gram panchayat levels.
When pointed out that the BAY is not one of the schemes under Duaare Sarkar, Rani says that those at the camp, however, did say they could help.
“They said they couldn’t give me money for a house now but would arrange for a tarpaulin and some repair work till the elections are over. It would cost us 10,000 rupees”, she says.
Most houses in Ramnagar are like that of Rani’s – small hutments, with the roof in some, and a wall in others, in need of urgent repairs.
Next to Rani, Kalyani Lai, who has just received the money for her house, said that she first had to deposit 50,000 rupees before she could get the money. “I sold all my utensils”, she says. “All this money is being taken by the panchayat. We didn’t even vote for them. They beat us up and didn’t let anyone except TMC contest”, she adds, emphasizing that their panchayat Pradhan is only a “10th pass”.
Others like Aloka Lai pointed out that not everyone in the village was issued a job card for 100 days of employment provided by the state. “Two people work under one job card and the money is transferred to the person whose name the card is in. Many times, that person may not transfer it to us. What do we do then?”, she asks.
The Lai or napith (barber) caste is in majority in Ramnagar. The Lais hold OBC status in West Bengal.
A problem for the community is jobs. Anima Lai, for example, says that her son is a BA graduate from a college in Bankura but is working at a small salon in Kolkata.
“He doesn’t make any money. Whatever he makes, he uses up to live and eat in Kolkata. We have no support apart from him and he can rarely send us money”, says Anima, whose husband suffered a stroke three years ago and is now unable to work.
Anima too complains of corruption by local leaders. She says she was asked to part with 5,000 rupees to secure her son a job in Bankura town. “My son said he’s unwilling to pay money to land a job”, she says.
The problem of gross corruption by TMC leaders and cadre in Ramnagar resonates not just in Bankura, but largely through out Junglemahal.
Apart from disillusionment with the TMC, one of the factors that has said to contribute to the BJP’s stupendous 2019 Junglemahal performance is the shift of the traditional Left vote to the BJP.
People across the district give various reasons for this shift. While some say that Left supporters wanted to get back at the TMC at any cost, others say that they needed a party that could protect them. Given the dwindling influence of the Left in some of these areas, they could not protect their own cadre from TMC atrocities.
However, many also say that this time around, they will stick to the Left.
As one approaches the Chhatna town of Bankura, there is a sudden explosion of red Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) flags. “Our booth has always voted for RSP”, says Sheikh Najibul, a shop-owner in Chhatna.
When asked about the problems in the area, Najibul talks about the lack of drinking water.
“We either have to buy expensive Bisleri cans or travel over 2kms to fetch drinking water. The water here is very contaminated. Installing water purifiers don’t help”, he says.
He also points towards the corruption in the Trinamool to explain why the Chhatna constituency voted BJP in 2019.
“Look at the TMC leaders here. The ones who couldn’t afford a beedi are now stubbing expensive cigarettes after taking just one puff. Who will tolerate that? The Left didn’t stand a chance in that election, so we voted BJP. Simple”, he says.
But Najimul isn’t happy with the BJP either.
“The BJP is focusing too much on Hindu-Muslim. We have lived peacefully in these areas for years. Never have religious differences come in the way”, he says.
A little away from Chhatna town, in the Jugunthal village, we meet Kartik Bauri.
Bauri, like many in the village, works as a labourer in marriage pandals- essentially helping in setting them up. He earns 250 rupees a day for about nine hours of work.
He doesn’t have a job card or a ration card. His house looks like it may fall apart any instant.
“I’m a CPI(M) man. I have always remained CPI(M). Even in 2019 I voted for CPI(M) but told everyone that I voted BJP. All my fellow comrades went to the BJP because the party was emerging stronger and our Left leaders couldn’t shelter us. No one could do anything if the TMC beat us black and blue. But now the people who left are coming back. They’ve seen that the TMC people who tortured them are now in the BJP. They are not being able to accept that”, says Bauri.
Actors & Defections
The defections to the BJP from the TMC is a quarrel many in the district have with the saffron party.
In Bankura town, Swapan Das, a toto driver says that the people he voted against in 2019 have now joined the BJP.
“What kind of politics is this? What is the point of voting for a party if after my vote, they take the same people in their fold whom I voted out?”, he says.
At the same time, Das is also irked with the TMC over their choice of candidate for his constituency- actor Sayantika Banerjee.
Bankura has a history with actor turned politicians. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, actor Munmun Sen was fielded as a TMC candidate and she won big.
“After the election, did Munmum Sen every come to Bankura? We never saw her. That is what seats like ours mean to them. If at all, they should be fielded from Kolkata. They will at least roam around there. Places like Bankura don’t meet their standards of luxury”, says Das.
Archana Borai, who runs an eatery opposite the Bankura railway station, says the same.
“I don’t know why actors always end up contesting from Bankura. It is fun initially. We go to their rallies and take selfies with them. But that’s it”, she says.
Alladi Tudu, a passerby, however, says that the candidate doesn’t matter. What matters is “Didi”.
“We have got rice. We have got water. There was a time when neither was available. We have seen those days and we have seen who as brought us out of it,” she says.
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