Despite wooing by both BJP and TMC, Matuas choose to split votes

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Amitava Roy Kolkata, Apr 4 (PTI) The Bharatiya Janata Party in its electoral mathematics for Bengal had counted on the 3 million strong Vaishnavite Matua community spread over the districts of Nadia, South and North 24 Parganas as a major vote bank, with the Prime Minister taking time not only to pay repeated visits to Matua dominated constituencies but even to a Matua shrine in neighbouring Bangladesh.

However actual voting patterns showed that the Matuas did not vote en-bloc for any one party and preferred to split their vote between both the ruling TMC with which many in the community had good relations them as well as BJP which had launched a charm offensive aimed at the community.

The saffron party had left no stone unturned to win the Matua community's favour. Besides Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and other senior leaders held a series of public meetings in Matua areas.

The community has the highest concentration in North 24 Parganas and Nadia, along with some places in South 24 Parganas district, but has adherents in other districts and in large parts of western Bangadesh too. Hailing from the Namashudra, a scheduled caste, adherents of this Vaishnavite sect are followers of Harichand Thakur a 19th century Vaishnavite reformer.

While the original seat of the Matua Mahasangha was in Oraikandi in Bangladesh where Thakur was born, Indian Matuas have set up their sects inner sanctum in a new township called Thakurnagar, in North 24 parganas, near the border with Bangladesh.

However, despite the BJP launching a campaign blitzkrieg in North 24 Parganas, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah holding public meetings to win the hearts of the Matuas, the party could win only five seats out of 33 seats in North 24 Parganas, with TMC accounting for an overwhelming 28 seats.

It won in Bongaon Uttar, Bongaon Dakshin, Bagda, Gaighata, all of which have a sizeable presence of Matuas and are reserved for the SC communities, apart from Bhatpara.

All the four constituencies are situated near the Bangladesh border and have a good percentage of refugees from the neighbouring country.

The BJP-nominated Subrata Thakur, belonging to the family that runs the Matua Mahasangha, won from Gaighata with a margin of 9,578 votes.

The BJP made a good showing in Nadia, where it won nine out of 17 constituencies, while TMC bagged eight seats.

However, the spread of BJPs influence in Nadia pre-dates the partys wooing of the Matua community.

The saffron party won all the five seats reserved for scheduled caste communities in the district - Krishnaganj, Ranaghat Uttar Purba, Ranaghat Dakshin, Haringhata and Kalyani, all of which have a high concentration of Matua voters.

The Matua community, after the death of their matriarch Binapani Devi, popularly known as 'Boro Ma' in March 2019, has split into two groups. While one has sided with the TMC, the other seems to have favoured the BJP.

Both the BJP and the TMC have wooed the Thakur family, descendants of Harichand Thakur to gain the support of Matuas.

The prime minister, Union Home Minister and several cabinet ministers have visited the Matua Mahasangha headquarters, while the TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee too has often spoken of her close relations with 'Boro Ma'.

Shah in his campaign stressed implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in West Bengal and grant of citizenship to Matuas, many of whom had moved in from Bangladesh as refugees.

Addressing a rally at Thakurnagar in North 24 Parganas, where the Matua Mahasangha is headquartered, Shah had in February said that the process of granting Indian citizenship to refugees under the CAA will begin once the process of Covid vaccination ended.

TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, who has opposed the CAA and NRC tooth and nail, also held a number of public meetings in the Matua dominated constituencies of Nadia and North 24 Parganas, stressing that they are already citizens of the country and do not need to go through the process again.

Besides, the 28 seats TMC won in North 24 Parganas, the party also won all the 31 seats in South 24 Parganas, where the Matuas have a presence in quite a few seats.