Bongaon: On Monday morning, rivals from the same family, Mamatabala Thakur and Santanu Thakur casted their votes by standing in lines side-by-side.
Before heading towards the booth, Santanu Thakur accused TMC of conspiring to kill him. He also accused his aunt Mamatabala Thakur of having an hand in the accident. However, Mamatabala rejected all the accusations.
On this, Mamatabala said that Santanu has lost his mind and speaking rubbish. However, they did not speak to each other while standing in the queue. They gave their votes and left.
That a family feud can turn into a subject of rivalry between two political parties can be witnessed if someone visits Thakurnagar town in West Bengal. Located close to the India-Bangladesh border, the town, about 63 km from Kolkata, in North 24 Parganas district falls under the Bangaon Lok Sabha seat, which is among the six constituencies in the state that is dominated by the Matua community.
It is for quite some time that the Matuas, a Schedule Caste community founded by Harichand-Guruchand Thakur, have been divided into two sections. One section of the family supports sitting Trinamool Congress MP Mamata Bala Thakur, the widow of Kapil Krishna Thakur who is the son of Matua matriarch Binapani Devi, popularly knwon as Boroma.
The other section stands besides Manjul Krishna Thakur, the second son of Boroma and the father of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Shantanu Thakur. The rift between them has widened after the death of Binapani Devi in March, says Barun Biswas, a resident of Chikanpara panchayat.
“The rift was there, but it started deteriorating slowly and slowly,” Biswas says. “We never wanted that to happen. This is affecting the Matuas and the political parties are gaining on it.”
Describing his aunt as “nobody”, Shantanu Thakur claims the TMC parliamentarian do not belong to the family. “I do not know her and cannot recognise her. She is from Maharashtra not from Bengal,” he says. “She is nobody of the Thakur bari (Thakur family). She is here illegally, forcefully and is enjoying every benefits.”
Calling her a “outsider”, Shantanu Thakur, an alumni of an Australia educational institution, said Mamata Bala Thakur should not be deciding the fate of the Matuas. Mamata Bala Thakur had won the Lok Sabha by-election in 2015 after her husband, who won the seat in the 2014 general election on a TMC ticket, passed away. She had defeated Manjul Krishna Thakur’s elder son, Subrata, who had fought on a BJP ticket, by a huge margin.
However, Matuas living in the area can sense a change in the air. That was quite prominent in the area starting from Thakurnagar railway station, where BJP flags can be seen fluttering everywhere. Most of the walls were taken over and painted in saffron in support of its candidate. The TMC’s presence was seen far less.
Mamata Bala Thakur counters this by saying her development works for the community and Thakurnagar speaks for themselves. “I do not need to go on painting the walls to show my presence. I am there in the minds of the people… in the minds of the Matuas,” she says. “Where was the BJP in the last five years?” the MP asks, asserting that the saffron party would not be able to weaken the TMC here.
“They (BJP) are living in a fool’s paradise. People want development, not big promises,” she says. Shantanu Thakur alleged that the ruling TMC had done very little for the development for the Matuas. The BJP leader promised he would ensure that community gets proper recognition as the citizens of India, in an apparent reference to the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
Describing it as a “lie”, Mamata Bala Thakur, however, says the community would be “cheated” if they fall prey it. “When the BJP is saying that it will introduce the NRC in West Bengal, then it is surely a fake promise to cheat the voters,” she says.
Dilip Bagchi, a local shopkeeper, says the rift in the family widened after Boroma passed away and the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in February.
Mita Mondal, a general practitioner, accuses the TMC of disconnecting electricity, stopping water supply for almost two days when Modi had come here to meet Boroma. “We had to suffer a lot in those two days. People have not liked this,” Mondal says. “After all, he is the PM of our country and you cannot do this,” the resident of Thakurnagar Main Road says.
Reiterating their words, Manjul Krishna Thakur accused TMC North 24-Parganas president Jyotipriya Mallick of driving a wedge in the family and at the cost of the development for the Matuas.
“Jyotipriya is enjoying the money of the Matua Trust… He is not a politician, but a goon under the the TMC party banner,” Manjul Krishna Thakur, who was the minister of state for refugee, relief and rehabilitation, and had resigned and joined the BJP in 2015.
Mallick refuted the allegations and accused the BJP of trying to exploit the ‘namasudras’ here. “BJP is trying to gain ground in West Bengal to compensate for their possible losses in other states,” the minister said. “Thakurnagar is a challenge for us but we are not tensed,” he says, adding that the party was thinking about its victory margin in Bangaon.
The CPI(M), meanwhile, has nominated former MP Alokesh Das, while the Congress has named Sourav Prasad from the seat. Das claimed that the voters in the area were fed-up with the TMC and were looking for a change. “They (voters) want change and they will vote for that… We will have people’s mandate for that,” the CPI(M) candidate added.
With a total of 16,99,763 voters, the Bangaon (SC) constituency located in North 24 Parganas and Nadia district, has a total of seven assembly segments – Kalyani, Haringhata, Bagda, Bangaon Uttar, Bangaon Dakshin, Gaighata and Swarupnagar.