Haunted by Trinamool's cut money culture, Bengal minorities forced to choose a lesser evil 

Express News Service
NORTH DINAJPUR:  Amin Ali has just finished his lunch of rice, daal and boiled potato at a roadside eatery at Goalpokhar in North Dinajpur district.

He is planning to buy a tarpaulin sheet to cover the tiled roof his house before seasonal thunderstorms hit the region.

He got a house under the state government’s housing scheme for the poor, but without a concrete roof over it.

The 55-year-old brick kiln labourer had to pay Rs 30,000 as ‘cut money’ to local Trinamool Congress leaders for getting himself enrolled in the list of beneficiaries.

As a result, he struggles with the stopgap roof of his house which gets damaged by storm almost every year.

“There are many others who had to face the similar plight. I had no option other than paying the cut money. How could I build a house with concrete walls with my monthly earning of Rs 4,500,’’ Ali says.

BJP has been making relentless attacks on the Mamata Banerjee government on the issue of cut money.

But the campaign’s electoral impact seems to be missing in this minority-dominated region of north Bengal comprising two districts North Dinajpur and Malda where 21 Assembly constituencies are located. Whom will you vote for?

“Do we have an option? We have to vote for those who have given us half a house. If they (BJP) come to power, we will be driven out of the country,’’ says the father of three, who migrated from Bangladesh 35 years ago.

Extreme polarisation

Sensing adverse impacts of the Citizenship Amendment Act and lukewarm impact of TMC’s alleged corruption on the region’s minority vote bank which forms around 50 per cent of the total electorates, BJP is trying to hard sell the Hindutva rhetoric.

This region is set to experience an extremely polarised election on the line of religion. BJP faced largescale agitations over its choice of candidates, which is also a factor that might fetch TMC electoral dividend.

Asgar Ali, a graduate in philosophy, is more concerned about his future than BJP’s Hindutva or TMC’s minority appeasement.

“Practically, I don’t see a reason to vote for either. Joblessness is an issue among the youth like me which the TMC government failed to address in 10 years. Many from our area secured jobs of teachers in primary schools after paying bribes ranging from `10 lakh to `15 lakh. On the other hand, BJP leaders never hesitate to issue statements which not only hurt us but also makes us feel insecure,’’ he says.

JP supporters during Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s roadshow in Nadiadistrict on Sunday

The 27-year-old, a face of Bengal’s educated and jobless young voters, finds no reason to support the LF-Congress alliance as it would mean wasting his ‘valuable’ vote.

“My political allegiance might be towards TMC. At least, they would be opposing CAA, which poses as a threat to us,’’ says the resident of Chakulia, another minority-dominated pocket in North Dinajpur.

The electoral landscape in Bengal’s concentrated minority pockets was not as polarised during the 2016 elections.

Though BJP is painting Mamata as anti-Hindu, Muslim voters had shown that she was not their preferred choice in the previous Assembly elections.

In the districts of Murshidabad, Malda and North Dinajpur, which have a minority population of over 50 per cent, the CPI(M)-Congress alliance had won 31 seats out of 43. But in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, TMC secured lead in 23 Assembly constituencies.

Debasish Biswas, professor of economics in Raiganj University and a political observer, described TMC’s surge in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as a fallout of BJP’s aggressive Hindutva campaign.

“The minorities, who did not vote for TMC in the 2016 Assembly polls, extended their support to them in 2019. It is a direct impact of NRC and CAA, which Mamata Benerjee also described as a threat to the minority community,’’ he observes.

How lotus bloomed

Asim Biswas, a farmer in his 40s, said most of the Hindus had migrated from Bangladesh and CAA is promising citizenship for them.

“When Muslims of this region united, Hindus, too, decided to come under the umbrella of BJP. That’s why BJP secured lead in this Assembly seat in the 2019 elections despite TMC winning the seat in 2016,’’ says Biswas, who has shifted allegiance from CPI(M) to BJP, like many others across the state.

They are a massive factor behind the saffron camp’s rise in Bengal. In Raiganj, the headquarters of North Dinajpur which is infamous for hooligaism, shootouts and gang rivalries, TMC is trying to dent Congress’s vote bank after winning the civic body, which was ruled by the grand old party since 1950.

The TMC also erected two statues of Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, the late Congress stalwart from the region.

“A considerable number of Congress workers still carry Dasmunsi’s legacy. Congress has no chance of doing well in this region. Our attempt is to woo Congress supporters,’’ said Kanhaiyalal Agarwal, TMC’s candidate from Raiganj.