Lalgarh, once a hotbed of Maoism in West Bengal, is now dotted with government buildings painted in Mamata Banerjee’s favorite blue and white. Jangalmahal, comprising the districts of Paschim Medinipur, Jhargram, Purulia and Bankura, was the scene of the tribal uprising that rocked the Left Front government in 2008-11. However, since 2019, when the BJP won five of Lok Sabha’s six seats in Jangalmahal, there has been a further political turnaround in the largely tribal region.
Local people recognize the change in their lives since the Trinamool Congress came to power and the bloodshed ceased. Now they want more.
“Didi poriborton enechhilo ebong unnoyon hoyechhe. Rasta-ghat bhalo hoyechhe, hoyechhe aar ekhane shanti firechhe bridge. Kintu kichhu lok goriber taka loot korechhe. Bekarotto berechhe. Manush ekhon onno upaay khujchhe. (Didi brought change and development – better roads; bridges. There is peace. But some people have plundered money from the poor. Unemployment has increased. People are now looking for other options), ” farmer Shyamal Tudu said.
In 2019, BJP led 31 of 40 assembly segments at Jangalmahal. A common refrain is that the TMC has been hurt by its own leaders.
“It is unfortunate that local leaders who are supposed to be helping out engage in corruption and take your rights away from you. The adivasi want respect, not grants and allowances. The benefits of social protection schemes must reach the poor, ”said Binay Hansda, a trader.
Rana Oraon, who drives a toto, an electric rickshaw, in Jhargram, said: “The violence has stopped, but people are still angry. They take note of the people who contact them. Anyone who reaches them quickly gets their vote. “
The BJP sensed the public’s frustration with the local government and sought to tap into it aggressively.
In Usuldungri village, along Ajodhya Hill road in Purulia district, farmer Budhulal Beshra, who owns a bigha of land, spoke about his problems. “My land only produces one harvest per year. We depend on the rain, there is no provision for irrigation. There is an acute water shortage in this region. Sometimes we get water from a downhill waterfall. But it’s a long walk, so we mostly go to a nearby well. This water is extremely dirty, full of insects.
Villages like Usuldungri were under the control of the Maoists a little over ten years ago. They now have roads, but not much else. The village is part of the Baghmundi Assembly constituency, which votes on Saturday.
It is corruption that makes people feel the most frustrated and betrayed.
Opening the tin door to what was supposed to be his toilet, Beshra said, “We didn’t have a toilet, so the government approved this. It doesn’t even have a pit. The contractor said that I had to sign the (filler) form so that he would receive the money to buy a dresser. So I signed it, but it never came back.
Young people complain about the lack of formal employment opportunities.
“We were with the Maoists. I met Kishenji and other Maoist leaders. We had guns, which we turned over to the government because the government had promised us jobs. But only three people from our village have found work, ”said Ukil Mandi, 26, who sells firewood for a living.
“I visited the home of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in Kalighat (Kolkata), where her security personnel beat me. I now periodically cycle 30 km with 25 kg of wood which brings in 100 rupees per kg. Some of my neighbors walk this distance, ”he said.
About 80 km from Usuldungri is the village of Puncha in the Manbazar Assembly constituency of the Purulia district, a seat reserved for the ST voting on Saturday. There are 19 Sabar tribal families in the village. The Sabars have been categorized as a “criminal tribe” by the British, and Janaki Sabar, 38, says it seems nothing has changed since then.
“Even today, if there is a theft in the area, the police first visit our homes. We are always viewed with suspicion, ”Janaki said. Her husband and four sons are migrant workers in Mumbai and Chennai.
Janaki’s neighbor, Manindra Sabar (32), a daily bet who earns Rs 200 a day, said: “All the houses in the neighboring areas are supplied with electricity. We don’t. Some houses “hang” on the power line. We have repeatedly approached the district magistrate and the development manager of the block for electricity and roads. Nothing happened.”
In the village of Katiam in the neighboring district of Bankura, the 20 houses of Sabar are plunged into darkness. The connections were cut after the failure to pay bills. A plastic cover has been put on the power cables to prevent theft by “snagging”. The village is part of the Ranibandh Assembly constituency, which votes on Saturday.
“During the harvest season, I cut paddy for which I am paid Rs 180 per day and 2 kg of rice. I also go to Burdwan (about 180 km) to pick potatoes in the fields. There, I am paid 200 Rs per day. Once the season is over, I have nothing to do. My family does not own any land. So I take baels from the forest and sell them for Rs 3 each, ”said Baneshwar Sabar (26), who studied up to grade 4.
Prashanta Sabar (17 years old), is the most educated among the Sabars of the village of Katiam. A student at Ranibandh high school, he finished his studies at dusk. “My school is about 3 km away. As part of the state government’s Sabooj Sathi program, I received a bicycle by bicycle, which I drive to school, ”he said.
Santosh Sabar, 60, says: “Some people in our village have cell phones. But we have to go to the next village, about a kilometer and a half away, to recharge them. We pay 5 rupees to top up our phones. “