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Mamata batting for Murmu betrays fear of BJP inroads in Bengal tribal vote bank

Despite playing a key role in getting Yashwant Sinha nominated as the Opposition camp’s Presidential nominee, Banerjee created a stir by telling reporters that Murmu could have been a “consensus candidate” had the BJP consulted with the Opposition parties.

Written by Atri Mitra | Kolkata |
Updated: July 4, 2022 4:22:31 pm
NDA’s Presidential candidate Droupadi Murmu and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. (PTI)

The ruling BJP-led NDA’s move to field the tribal leader and ex-Jharkhand governor Droupadi Murmu as its candidate in the July 18 Presidential election has put the West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee in a spot.

Despite playing a key role in getting the former Union minister and party leader Yashwant Sinha nominated as the Opposition camp’s Presidential nominee, Banerjee created a stir by telling reporters in Kolkata Friday that Murmu could have been a “consensus candidate” had the BJP consulted her nomination with the Opposition parties. Pointing out that Murmu has a better chance of winning the Presidential election following the Maharashtra political developments, she said, “Had we known they (NDA) were planning to field a tribal woman or a member of a minority community, we could have thought about it (consensus). We have great respect for people from the tribal communities and for women.” Noting that Sinha has already filed his nomination papers, she also added that she will however go by the Opposition parties’ decision.

In the July 2012 Presidential election, when Pranab Mukherjee was the then ruling Congress-led UPA’s nominee, Banerjee had changed her stance and decided to back Mukherjee at the last moment.

The TMC chief’s startling remarks, that came a day after “Hul Diwas” marking the 1855 Santhal uprising, might have betrayed her realisation that by opposing Murmu in the Presidential poll her party’s tribal vote bank, which she regained from the BJP in the 2021 state Assembly elections, might be dented.

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On the occasion of “Hul Diwas”, Banerjee’s arch BJP rival and Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari participated in several events across the state’s Junglemahal region, which has a significant tribal population, projecting his party’s bid to select a tribal woman as its Presidential face. With Murmu set to become the first tribal to become the President of India, Adhikari also said that “while Narendra Modi’s candidate is Murmu, Mamata Banerjee’s candidate is Yashwant Sinha” and that following her victory he will request President Murmu to visit Junglemahal.

Tribal voters account for 7-8% of the total voters in Bengal. In four parliamentary constituencies in the Junglemahal region — comprising Bankura, Purulia, Jhargram and West Midnapore districts — and eight constituencies spread across North Bengal districts such as Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri, Coochbehar, North and South Dinajpir and Maldah, the tribal voter percentage rises up to nearly 25%.

Santhals make up over 80 per cent of Bengal’s tribal population. Murmu also belongs to the Santhali community.

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In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when the BJP won 18 seats as against the TMC’s 22 seats, the saffron party bagged all seats of Junglemahal and six seats of North Bengal. In the 2021 Assembly polls however, which the TMC won by a landslide, the TMC got the better of the BJP in Junglemahal districts.

Taking the initiative to select the joint Opposition’s Presidential candidate, Banerjee had invited 22 Opposition leaders and CMs to attend a meeting in Delhi on June 15, which finally led to the nomination of Sinha, who then resigned from the TMC to become the Opposition’s nominee.

The TMC camp said Banerjee’s bid to calibrate her stance favourably towards Murmu would not lead to her supporting her candidature. A senior party leader said by making these remarks the CM has just sought to “reach out to the state’s tribals” while signalling to them that she was not against Murmu’s Presidential candidature.

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The TMC chief however drew flak from the Opposition Congress and CPI(M). State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, “This is nothing new for Mamata Banerjee. Earlier also, she has changed her mind before the Presidential election.”

The Bengal CPI(M)’s leader Sujan Chakraborty charged, “Banerjee has always maintained double standards. To prove her leadership, she quickly called meeting of Opposition parties to decide the Presidential candidate… She is now assuring BJP that she is with them so that it does not pose any threat to her.”

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First published on: 02-07-2022 at 10:03:30 pm

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