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First phase: TMC faces discontentment in Jangalmahal, BJP is also wary

Discontent against the ruling Trinamool Congress is apparent in the rough and rugged terrain of West Bengal's Jangalmahal, a part of which is going to poll on Saturday (March 27).

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Discontent against the ruling Trinamool Congress is apparent in the rough and rugged terrain of West Bengal’s Jangalmahal, a part of which is going to poll on Saturday (March 27).

The cause behind this dissatisfaction is mostly the TMC government’s welfare schemes failing to equally reach everyone and the cut-money menace that has almost become a hallmark of the current regime.

The cut-money is the commission the TMC leaders at the panchayat- and the block-level collect from the beneficiaries of the government’s welfare schemes.

A TMC leader in Purulia district admitted to The Federal in private that on the cut-money issue the party is on the back foot.

“I won’t deny that this is not an issue. We also conveyed our feedback to the party leadership,” said the TMC leader who wished to remain anonymous.

The party, however, can still have some hope as in between the two assembly polls of 2016 and 2021, there was a Lok Sabha election in 2019.

The angst that helped the BJP to take lead in 30 of the region’s 40 assembly segments subsided to a certain extent this time as the four BJP MPs from the region are now facing similar anti-incumbency for failing to deliver on their poll promises.

Granting scheduled tribe status to the Adivasi Kudmi community was one of the major Lok Sabha poll promises that the BJP failed to keep.

“The BJP MPs from the region also do not have much to show on their progress report, which has naturally confused the voters this time,” said Swapan Mahato, an Adviasi leader from Purulia.

The failure has alienated a section of the Kudmi community from the BJP and this might impact the party’s poll prospect this time, he added.

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Moreover, the BJP this time around was little wary about pursuing its aggressive Hindutva agenda in the tribal belt. The demand for recognition for their indigenous ‘Sarna’ religion and providing a separate code for it in the Census is slowly getting momentum in the tribal villages, much to the BJP’s concern.

Senior BJP leader and MP Jyotirmoy Singh Mahato, however, says the twin demand would not have any impact on the party’s poll prospect as it’s in favour of meeting the demands.

The 2019 shocker had alerted the TMC leadership to take steps to curtail the cut-money menace to regain the lost ground.

The ‘Duare Sarkar’ initiative launched by the Mamata Banerjee administration in December to take the government’s schemes to the people’s doorsteps offset some of the damages.

“Almost everyone in the village got Swastha Sathi card (a health insurance scheme of ₹5 lakh per family) through Duare Sarkar,” said Gurupada Mahato of Sinara village under Kashipur assembly constituency.

He, however, added that none in the village got benefits of either the state government or the Centre’s housing schemes for the poor.

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“Many, including myself, got the job card without paying cut-money through the Duare Sarkar scheme,” said Bijoy Singh Laya of Bagadhi village. He had returned to his village from Chennai during the lockdown period.

The corrective measures might have subsided the anger, but it has not been doused completely.

For the BJP to cross the 128-barrier — the number of assembly segments in which the party got the lead in 2019 general elections — it is essential that it does well in the 30 seats where polling will be held on Saturday.

Apart from the 23 seats in Jangalmahal areas, seven seats are in East Midnapore district, the home district of Suvendu Adhikari — the BJP’s biggest recruit in this polling season.

The BJP will be under pressure to repeat its Lok Sabha performance in Jangalmahal and to sweep East Midnapore to make true its dream of conquering Bengal.

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