‘Voters or Citizens,’ Matua community hold key in West Bengal Assembly Elections 2021

PM Modi worships in Orakandi Kali temple | Picture Courtesy: Nation World News

The Matua community, with 1.5 crore voters, has always been politically active in West Bengal. Amid political drama and family feuds with fiery statements, it is evident that the Matua community, which has a significant vote share, remains a political tool for every party but one that might determine the fate of the West Bengal Assembly Elections 2021.

Suprakash Majumdar, TwoCircles.net 

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West Bengal: On March 27, Prime Minister visited the Orakandi temple in Bangladesh on March 27. The visit came amid the ongoing West Bengal Assembly Elections 2021, and was seen as an apparent move to reach out and gain the support of the Matua community. The community, which has nearly 1.5 crore voters in West Bengal, hold significance for the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), who are looking to wrest control from All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) to rule the eastern Indian state.

Matua is a Dalit community in West Bengal, who have migrated from Bangladesh during and after the Bangladesh war of 1971. Most of the Matuas don’t have citizenship rights in India. There is no official data of how many Matuas live in West Bengal, but it is believed that 20 to 30 per cent of Bengal’s population consists of Matuas and has a hold on over one-fourth of the entire legislative assembly seats in the state.

Prolay, 40, who is a Matua, told TwoCircles.net that he wants citizenship rights. He has all the documents an Indian citizen has: an Aadhaar, voting ID, ration card but still isn’t regarded as a citizen. He says his ancestors came to Thakurnagar, the epicentre of the Matua community in West Bengal, in the mid-70s. “When someone asks us our nationality, what do we say? I was born here, but I cannot say I am Indian because nobody has given us that right in so many years,” he rues. 

The Matua community has always been politically active in West Bengal, where all parties have always tried to woo them to exploit their vote share. 

The Thakur family of Thakurnagar is considered to be the most prominent family with great influence over how the community thinks. 

Kapil Krishna Thakur became the face of the movement politically. He was supported by TMC and given a ticket to contest elections in the 2014 General Elections, but he passed away few months into his term. His wife, Mamata Thakur won from the same seat on a TMC ticket. 

Eyeing a big voter share of the community, and Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) promise of implementing the controversial CAA-NRC, some groups within the community started shifting towards the BJP. Among these, one was Shantanu Thakur, nephew of sitting MP Mamata Thakur—who got a ticket from the BJP in the 2019 General Elections, now an MP from Bongaon.

Both sides claim to have the community’s support, and both sides also support citizenship rights— but disagree on the means. 

While talking to TwoCircles.net, Shantanu Thakur said, “We have the support of all Matuas. As promised BJP brought Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) for the community but unfortunately due to the pandemic, the implementation has been stalled. But as soon as the cabinet is formed BJP will implement it and Matuas shall get the citizenship they have waited for.” 

Another member of the Matua community Bapi, 60, says, “We want citizenship but I don’t think BJP will be able to implement anything. It seems that they are lying to us about this. See how many promises they have made to the people? They haven’t fulfilled any!” 

When asked about TMC and Mamata Banerjee, he says, “They only care about Muslims. No one talks about us Matuas?”

Mamata Thakur of TMC believes that, “citizenship rights are an absolutely important issue.” 

“It is definitely our concern. The Matua Mahasabha and TMC have similar stances on citizenship rights,” he said. 

According to her, the current version of CAA gives rights to only Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Christians— but not specifically Matuas. “Matuas are not Hindus, we have our own religious beliefs, and it seems like an attempt to Hindu-ize Matuas,” she said. 

Commenting on the PM’s visit to Orakandi temple, she says “It is a political gimmick.” 

“We welcome the PM visiting our sacred place, but we have to note the timing of this visit too,” she says.

She accuses BJP of being a casteist party, saying, “We know what they have done to our Dalit sisters. It is better if they do not speak about us at all. Mamata Banerjee is the only leader who has talked about us properly.”

Although most of the Matua people don’t have citizenship, some have managed to get it illegally. 

Ravi (name changed), who lives in Barasat of north 24 Parganas is one of them. His father came to India in the mid-70s and lives in India as a refugee. He managed to get Indian citizenship by bribing the officials.

Amid this political drama and family feuds with fiery statements, it is evident that the Matua community, which has a significant vote share, remains a political tool for every party but one that might determine the fate of the West Bengal Assembly Elections 2021.