Jangal Mahal Elections: A Litmus Test for Identity and Dynasty Politics

The Jangal Mahal region in Bengal, known for its tribal belt, heads to polls in an intense sixth phase. With the BJP and TMC vying for dominance across eight Lok Sabha seats, the elections serve as a crucial test for identity politics and the influence of dynasty politics in constituencies like Kanthi and Tamluk.

PTI | Kolkata | Updated: 24-05-2024 16:51 IST | Created: 24-05-2024 16:51 IST
Jangal Mahal Elections: A Litmus Test for Identity and Dynasty Politics
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The Jangal Mahal region, recognized as Bengal's tribal belt consisting of five districts, will go to polls in the sixth phase on Saturday.

A hotspot for identity politics, the region sends eight representatives to the Lok Sabha from Tamluk, Kanthi, Ghatal, Jhargram, Medinipur, Purulia, Bankura, and Bishnupur seats.

Out of the eight seats, the BJP won five and TMC bagged three in the 2019 polls.

A total of 1.45 crore voters, including 73.63 lakh men, 71.70 lakh women, and 133 persons of the third gender, are eligible to exercise their franchise in 15,600 polling stations of which 2,678 are critical in the penultimate phase, an election official said.

Of the 79 candidates in the fray, Bankura and Jhargram each have the highest number of 13 contestants, followed by Purulia (12), and nine each in Medinipur and Tamluk, he said.

Seven candidates each are contesting from Bishnupur and Ghatal Lok Sabha seats, the election official said.

Around 919 companies of central forces will be deployed in this phase, whereas more than 29,000 state police also will be deployed.

Except in the Ghatal seat, which is represented by two-time MP and cine star Dev aka Dipak Adhikari and is still a stronghold of the TMC, the political equations have changed drastically in Purba Medinipur district where the Tamluk and Kanthi Lok Sabha seats are situated and were won by the Mamata Banerjee-led party in 2019.

The balance of power in the region shifted in favour of the BJP following Suvendu Adhikari's switch in 2021, despite TMC's resurgence and strengthened influence through welfare schemes targeted at tribal Kurmi and Mahato communities.

Kanthi and Tamluk Lok Sabha constituencies exemplify dynasty politics through the significant influence of Suvendu Adhikari and his family, whose members have held key political positions and wield substantial power in the region.

The upcoming elections will serve as a litmus test for the endurance of dynasty politics, revealing whether the Adhikari family's support base follows them across party lines and demonstrating the durability of their political legacy.

Political observers note that elections in Kanthi and Tamluk present a unique dynamic compared to other constituencies in the state, featuring a distinctly bipolar electoral landscape where voters face a clear choice between supporting the BJP and its national agenda or favouring the TMC government in Bengal and its welfare schemes.

Unlike the common triangular contests in other parliamentary constituencies of the state, this binary nature in Kanthi and Tamluk underscores the significance of the political stakes involved.

Soumendu Adhikari, the brother of Suvendu Adhikari, has been fielded in the Kanthi Lok Sabha seat, considered the backyard of the senior BJP leader.

In Tamluk, former judge of Calcutta High Court Abhijit Gangopadhyay is fighting on a BJP ticket against TMC's Young Turk Debangshu Bhattacharya, known for composing the ''Khela Hobe'' song for the party in the 2021 assembly polls.

In the last assembly polls, the TMC had bagged eight of the 15 assembly segments spread across both the Lok Sabha seats in the Purba Medinipur district.

In Jhargram, Purulia, and Medinipur seats, the BJP is on a sticky wicket following the region witnessing unrest last year as members of the Kurmi community, which is a deciding factor in three seats, staged protests and blockades, advocating for ST status.

The tumultuous days of Maoist violence may now be a thing of the past in this region of Bengal, but the tribal-dominated area remains a hotbed of identity politics affecting the elections.

The minority Kurmi community, traditionally farmers and listed as OBCs in West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Odisha, have long demanded Scheduled Tribe status.

This demand has led to sporadic violence and has created a sharp divide with the majority of Adivasis, who are already recognized as STs, firmly opposing the Kurmis' claim.

Both BJP and TMC have been treading cautiously with the ruling party forming a state Tribal Development Board and nominating a member of Mahato and Kurmi from two of the seats in the region.

Adding to BJP's woes, Kunar Hembram, a sitting MP from the Jhargram seat, quit the party and has switched over to the TMC.

BJP MLA and noted fashion designer Agnimitra Paul is pitted against Medinipur's TMC MLA and actor June Malia in the Medinipur Lok Sabha seat, which BJP leader Dilip Ghosh had won last time.

Out of the 22 assembly segments, the BJP had won only six in the 2021 assembly polls as the TMC made a comeback in the state polls by winning the remaining 16 assembly seats from the region.

In the Bankura Lok Sabha seat, although the BJP had maintained its dominance in the last assembly election by winning four of the seven assembly seats, dissidence over the re-nomination of Union minister Subhas Sarkar from the parliamentary seat might be a cause of worry for the saffron camp.

In the Bishnupur seat, the BJP has reposed faith in its sitting MP Saumitra Khan to retain the seat.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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