The 2021 Union Budget had more than its fair share of goodies for all the poll-bound states, including West Bengal. However, for Bengal, the budget chose to direct its focus primarily on North Bengal, which already happens to be a BJP bastion.
Those familiar which chess would know that the ‘Sicilian Defence’ is one the most aggressive forms of defensive openings in the game whereby the player not only protects the centre of the board but also leaves the sides to attack.
…and this is exactly how the BJP is trying to tackle North Bengal, especially the tea workers, who have an influence over at least 15 Assembly seats. The BJP aims to win at least 50 out of the 54 seats in North Bengal.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced ₹25,000-crore worth of road projects and the creation of 675 kms of National Highway. She further allotted Rs.1000 crore for the development and betterment of tea workers, especially women and their children in Assam and West Bengal.
The other reason here is the case of tea workers in the region. Both the TMC and the BJP have been fighting to win over the Tea workers because of their influence in 15 assembly constituencies. Tea workers have been constantly demanding a hike in their wages, as well as land rights. Darjeeling’s BJP MP Raju Bista has been attacking the Mamata Banerjee government over the issue regularly.
The Terai Indian Planters’ Association (TIPA), accused the Tea Board of India under the Union Commerce Ministry of delaying the release of subsidies to tea-estates in Bengal. They have also questioned the role of Bista, who is also a member of the Tea Board. Reportedly, this is the first time that a North Bengal tea association has questioned the performance of the board and the MP.
Staff and sub-staff who work in the tea estates would also receive a hike in their gross salaries.
This decision was taken after a tripartite meeting between the state’s labour department, tea associations and tea trade unions.
The Might of the Woman Voter
Women voters have always played a very crucial role in Bengal politics. They were an important factor behind Mamata Banerjee ousting the Left government in 2011 and have been by her side in the 2016 elections too.
However, that wasn’t the case in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections where a large chunk of women voters had sided with the BJP, and the results spoke for themselves. The BJP would be looking to capitalise on this swing.
The BJP through the union budget is trying to hit more than one target (state) with a single arrow. In Bengal, women voter’s turnout has been higher than men’s turnout for two consecutive years.
According to the Election Commission’s final voters list for Bengal, women voters now stand at 49 per cent of the total electorate. For the BJP, it would be easier to try to woo Mamata’s female vote bank than her minority vote bank, and hence they set aside ₹24,435 crore the Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry, a 16.31 per cent increase from the previous year.