On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched his Lok Sabha campaign from Thakurnagar, part of Bangaon seat near the Bangladesh border. He met with centenarian Binapani Devi, popularly known as ‘Boro Ma’ and matriarch of the the Matua community, and shared the stage with Boro Ma’s grandson Shantanu Thakur, an emerging leader of the community.
Why is Matua community important for Trinamool, BJP?
The community is important for a number of reasons. Since 2009, the Matuas were mostly known to be Trinamool Congress supporters; Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is seen to be close to Boro Ma; the party has fielded members of her family in elections. However, the family has been divided over its political leanings in recent years.
Matuas trace their ancestry to East Bengal, and many of them entered West Bengal after Partition and after the formation of Bangladesh — the Prime Minister flagged the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill during his speech.
Matuas are Namasudras, a Scheduled Caste group with a presence in at least six parliamentary seats. While no official count is available, community leaders put their population at 3 crore, while a state minister said there are 1.75 crore Namasudra voters.
The Matua Mahasangha, a religious reforms movement and a sect, was formed by Harichand Thakur in East Bengal in the mid-1800s. Harichand’s grandson P R Thakur established West Bengal’s Thakurnagar as headquarters of the sect after 1947. Boro Ma belongs to the same family, which still wields influence on the community.
Initially behind the Congress, the community turned to the Left Front from 1977 but was disillusioned again, as citizenship and land rights eluded many. In 2009, Left leaders and Mamata separately approached Boro Ma, who chose the latter. In 2010, Boro Ma made Mamata the chief patron of Matua Mahasabha; in 2011, the government provided grants to spruce up Kamonasagar, the community’s holy pond in Thakurnagar. In 2018, Mamata visited Boro Ma and the government later announced a welfare board for Matuas.
Boro Ma’s son Kapil Krishna Thakur won the Bangaon Lok Sabha on a Trinamool ticket in 2014. After his death, his wife Mamata Thakur won the seat. Her rival was also from the family — Subrata, another grandson of Boro Ma, and in the BJP. Subrata’s father Manjul Krishna Thakur (Boro Ma’s son) was a Trinamool minister of state but later he and Subrata joined the BJP. Shantanu too is Manjul Krishna’s son, and organised Saturday’s event; he invited Modi to speak.
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