West Bengal Elections 2021: Teli, Mahisya and the OBC caste gamble in Bengal

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Updated: March 30, 2021 5:48 PM

West Bengal Elections 2021: Both the BJP and the TMC know the power of these vote banks and are trying to appease them.

West Bengal BJP TMC Mamata banerjee JP NaddaOnce a vote bank of the TMC, the transfer of SCs, STs and OBCs votes to the BJP in 2019 Lok Sabha polls helped the saffron party crack some strongholds of the TMC.

One thing that is common between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Trinamool Congress amid high-voltage poll campaigns in West Bengal is their caste gamble. Addressing a rally in Bengal on March 16, BJP president JP Nadda had promised OBC status to left out Hindu backward castes including Telis and Mahisya. Just a day after, Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress released its manifesto which emphasised on OBC reservation for castes like Mahisyas, Tamuls, Telis and Sahas.

Once a vote bank of the TMC, the transfer of SCs, STs and OBCs votes to the BJP in 2019 Lok Sabha polls helped the saffron party crack some strongholds of the TMC. The transfer of SC/ST votes had helped the saffron party defeat the TMC in Jangalmahal, North 24 Parganas and Nadia districts. On the other hand, the OBC votes had helped the BJP win some key seats in districts like East Midnapore, West Midnapore, Howrah and Hooghly.

Both the BJP and the TMC know the power of these vote banks and are trying to appease them. While the BJP’s promise is aimed at consolidating the vote bank, the TMC’s promise in the manifesto is an effort to get them back to support Mamata Banerjee.

The Teli and Mahisya are among Hindu backward castes with a strong presence in the Bankura and Purulia districts of West Bengal. Notably, the BJP has been accusing the Banerjee government of ignoring these backward castes while alleging that 99 per cent of the Muslim population have benefited from OBC reservation in the state.

The Mamata Banerjee government had passed the West Bengal Backward Classes (other than SC and ST) (Reservation of Vacancies in Services and Posts) Bill in 2012 paving ways for the inclusion of some Muslim communities in the OBC reservation fold. As per the rule, all Muslim communities except Siddiquis and Sayads were included as OBC A or OBC B in the list. The list also includes Hindus communities like Middes, Kapalis, Kansaris, Kahars, Karmakars, Kumbhakars, Kurmis, Napits, Majhis, Modaks, Sutradhars, Swarnakars and Kolus. The list excluded groups like Mahisyas, Tomars, Telis and Sahas as the government believed that they were privileged and were a part of the mainstream.

The Mahisyas, Telis, Tomars and Sahas are believed to hold keys of at least 50 constituencies in South Bengal. Several leaders from these communities like Birendranath Sashmal, Sushil Dhara and Satish Samanta had led the freedom movement against the Britishers. These groups also play a crucial role in deciding the winning candidates in Nandigram, the political epicentre of this election, which is witnessing a straight contest between Mamata Banerjee and Suvendu Adhikari.

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