Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be paying his respects to Hari Chand Thakur and his son Guruchand Thakur, at the shrine at Orakandi, the founder of the Matua community, comprising of mainly Namasudras, in Bangladesh on the first day of the West Bengal assembly polls. The community which seems to be at the forefront of the state elections and the Bhartiya Janta Party’s (BJP) politics surrounding the contended Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), comprises Dalits who had immigrated to West Bengal from Bangladesh. The Matua sect is a Scheduled Caste (SC) and has a nationwide population of three crores, of whom, two cores reside in the state of West Bengal.
The Matua’s and the Rajbanshi’s, (another SC) were pivotal in West Bengal Chief Minister (CM) Mamata Banerjee’s landslide 2011 victory. The win opened a new chapter in West Bengal politics; Ending the 34 years Communist Party of India (Marxist) rule in the state. The community with a two-crore strength in West Bengal wields tremendous sway over the polls in at least 70 assemblies. Nadia, North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas which are bordering Bangladesh have the most Matua population and is a crucial factor in 21 assembly seats. Bangaon Uttar, Bangaon Dakshin, Swarupnagar, Gaighata, Minakhan, Hingalganj, Gosaba, Basanti, Kultali, Mandirbazar, Jaynagar, Baruipur Purba, Canning Paschim, Magrahat Purba and Bishnupur assembly seats will see maximum impact of Matua votes this time. It is pertinent to note that the state has the second-highest concentration of Scheduled Castes in the country with 10 out of the 42-seats reserved for them. Bangaon city and municipality in North 24 Parganas district is the main center of Matua samaj offices. The 2019 elections saw the BJP win four out of the 10 reserved seats.
The BJP was able to influence Matuas votes with the promise of enacting CAA in the state, something anticipated in the 2021 polls as well. As of now, there is a battle for Matua support going on between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the state. TMC candidate, Narottam Biswas to win Matua support sang devotional songs in line with the community’s traditions. The Matua’s sole ritual is singing devotional songs in the Bhakti tradition. This was the TMC candidate’s way of attempting to ensure community votes to his party and candidacy. It is poignant to note that the Mutua sect has a division with some supporting the TMC while some others in the community supporting the BJP. This only adds to the ongoing tug of war over Matua votes.
The influence of the Matua community had surged in the state with the popularity of their founder’s great-grandson and his wife Binapani Devi, affectionately called Boro Maa (Elder Mother) by the community members. She was an immensely influential figure and had significantly helped secure Mamta Banerjee’s victory. In 2009 both the CPI (M) and the TMC had sought Binapani Devi’s political patronage, however she chose to back Mamta Banerjee. In return for her support, Mamta Banerjee as CM developed schools in Thankurnagar, which were named after Matua community leaders, and gave both her sons Lok Sabha and Bengal poll tickets. Boro Maa, the popular Matua leader died in 2019. Her death created two rival political alliances in the first Matua family. These alliances are at the heart of the battle for votes.
The BJP has assured the implementation of CAA after COVID-19 vaccinations, but the National Register of Citizens (NRC) implementation in Assam which led to the exclusion of even Hindus have sowed a seed of doubt in the minds of some sections of Matua community. The Modi government has been granted time till April 9 by the Lok Sabha and July 9 by the Rajya Sabha to frame rules under the citizenship law. Mamata Banerjee has mobilized the SC and ST (Scheduled Tribe) to counter the CAA narrative by the BJP calling it as false promise. On November 2020, Mamata Banerjee had granted land rights to 25,000 refugee families living in the state. A total of 1.25 lakh refugee families would be given land rights in the days to come … This land right document will act as proof that you are a citizen of this country. No one can take away your citizenship’ she had said during the event. Mamata had also announced a Matua development board for the Matuas all around Bengal.