An all-India Dalit convention will be held in West Bengal in the second week of May to highlight the Mamata Banerjee government’s welfare measures for the community in a bid to push the Trinamool Congress’ (TMC) national expansion plan.
The chairman of the West Bengal Namasudra Welfare Board, Mukul Chandra Bairagya, told The Federal that the idea is to project the “Dalit-friendly” face of TMC chief Banerjee.
“No chief minister in the country has done as much as she did for the welfare of the Dalit community and this needs to be told to the people of our community across the country,” claimed Bairagya, who is also a leader of the All India Namasudra Vikash Parishad, an umbrella organisation of Bengali Scheduled Castes also called Namasudras.
The parishad is organising the convention at Kalyani, in Nadia district.
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The West Bengal government formed the welfare board for the community in 2018 for their socio-economic development in the wake of the BJP’s aggressive wooing of the Rajbanshis and Matuas – the two largest SC sects in the state – ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, making caste a significant factor in the state’s political contest.
The SCs comprise 23 per cent of West Bengal’s population, and they have emerged as an influential electoral bloc, voting en-masse guided by their common concerns or demands as a group. “Caste politics is now a reality in Bengal. The proposed Dalit convention in the state will further reinforce this casteist politics which was absent in the state even a decade ago,” said political commentator and journalist Ranjan Sengupta.
The caste-factor has assumed political importance in the state since 2011 when the TMC introduced identity politics based on caste and religion, courting Muslims and Namasudras to upstage the class-based social mobilisation of the CPI (M).
Once the BJP too started reaching out to the Namasudras as an exclusive electoral group, caste politics became an established part of the state’s electoral battle.
“Even the CPI (M), which has all these years tried to deny the existence of caste divide in Bengali society, is now waking up to the political reality, as has been evident from its decision to nominate Ramchandra Dome, a Dalit, as a Politburo member from the state,” said Nirmalaya Banerjee, a political commentator and author.
After consolidating its support base among Muslims and Namasudras in the 2021 assembly election, the TMC on its part is now trying to utilise the social engineering formula to expand its base beyond Bengal.
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“By relentlessly targeting her as pro-minority leader, the BJP helped increase Mamata Banerjee’s popularity among Muslims across India. Now if she can be projected as a pro-Dalit leader as well among the community across the country, the TMC can emerge as a strong national force,” a TMC leader said.
Bairagya, the brain behind the proposed convention, said they are expecting at least one lakh Dalit delegates from across the country to attend the two-day event.
“On the first day there will be a delegate-meet where some resolutions are expected to be taken. There we will also showcase the initiatives of the West Bengal government for the development of the community. On the second day, the chief minister will address the delegates at a public rally,” he said.
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“The date of the convention will be finalised once we get the schedule from the chief minister. Within a day or two, she will give us a date in the second week of next month.”
Apart from Bengali Dalit communities from the eight states of West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Dalits from other communities too will attend the convention as guests.
“This is the first time a mega Dalit convention is being organised in the state,” Bairagya said.