Matua voters are expected to play the pivotal role in today's sixth phase of the West Bengal assembly polls for both India ruler Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC).
The 43 Assembly seats spread across four districts -- North 24 Parganas, Nadia, Purba Bardhaman and North Dinajpur – are home to most of the 1.5 crore Matua voters. Around 3.5 crore Matua people live across the WB.
Matua, a sect of folk Hinduists, who are Namasudras -- a scheduled caste group, left the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) after the 1947 partition and migrated to West Bengal and was scattered mainly across three bordering districts with Bangladesh, with the exception of Purba Bardhaman.
Of them, in North 24 Parganas and also in parts of Nadia like Bongaon Uttar, Bongaon Dakshin, Swarupnagar, Bagda and Krishnanagar Dakshin, there is a high concentration of Matuas.
The sect took a left turn in 1977 and shifted its position in favour of the TMC in 2009. But in the 2019 general elections, they showed their loyalties to BJP. Now BJP is hoping to repeat its 2019 performance and has made every effort in its campaign leading up to the polls.
Apart from the geographical location and Matua voters, WB ruler TMC and its challenger BJP are also considering the voting ratio of the last Lok Sabha election (National Polls) for a tough fight.
In the last assembly election in 2016, the TMC won 32 seats, while National Congress won seven and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) bagged four. The BJP, on the other hand, failed to manage even one.
At that election, the TMC won 44.89 percent votes, Congress and CPIM alliance got 39.24 percent votes, while the BJP secured only 10.74 percent votes.
But in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP delivered a devastating blow to Congress and CPIM by getting 40.85 percent of votes. The Congress and CPIM alliance got only 13.46 percent votes. The vote ratio of the TMC had also decreased from 44.89 percent to 42.58 percent.
But BJP has now emerged as the TMC's main opponent, leaving Congress and CPIM into a distant third in the race for polls.
According to the Lok Sabha polls, the TMC is marching ahead in 24 assembly seats, while the BJP is ahead in 19.
In this phase, both the TMC and BJP have nominated strong candidates in all the 43 assembly seats, contested by 306 candidates. Congress on the other hand has fielded 12 candidates, while its partner CPIM has put up 23 candidates and another partner Indian Secular Front (ISF) will be contesting in two seats.
Senior BJP leaders like Mukul Roy is contesting from Krishnanagar Uttar and Rahul Sinha from Habra. Sitting MLAs of the Samyukt Morcha, Ali Imran Ramz of All India Forward Bloc, is contesting from Chakulia in Uttar Dinajpur and Tanmoy Bhattacharya of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) from Dum Dum Uttar. CPM leader and Food Minister of Mamata Banerjee's cabinet Jyotipriyo Mullick is contesting from Habra while film director, actor and producer Raju Chakraborty is contesting from the Barrackpore constituency under TMC's banner.
Over 1.03 crore voters are eligible to cast their votes and a total 1,071 companies of central forces deployed to guard at 14,480 polling stations.
Elections have been held in 180 constituencies so far and the remaining 114 seats are set to go to polls between April 22 and 29. Votes will be counted on May 2.