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As Bengal Rail blockade continues, BJP sees ‘conspiracy’, says Kurmi protest TMC rides on steam NewsPipa

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Amid the rapidly changing political equation since Bihar’s coup opened up space for the opposition, a movement by Kurmi groups to save the Scheduled Tribe is now emerging as a flashpoint.

For the fourth day on Friday, members of the tribal Kurmi community blocked railways and roads in West Bengal’s Paschim Medinipur and Purulia districts, demanding ST status and inclusion of the Kurmali language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. Train services in the South Eastern Railway (SER) division continue to be affected, with over 205 trains canceled so far, while hundreds of freighters and buses are stranded on the blocked NH-6.

Its unspoken background is JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar’s status as the tallest leader of the Kurmi community, which has a presence across eastern India, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal. The Kurmi agitation, also observed in Jharkhand and Odisha, coincided with Nitish’s split from the BJP and tentative foray into national politics.

In a speech earlier this month, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee named Nitish as one of the leaders her party will rally around to fight the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

On Friday, the West Bengal BJP accused the ruling Trinamool Congress of “inciting” the Kurds to continue their protests. BJP national vice-president Dilip Ghosh said, “Kurmis are demanding ST status. This is their long-standing demand. Today we have a specific commission for these communities, which looks after such things. It considers social and economic aspects before granting ST status to a community. It is not possible to save by blocking the road. There is a method. The matter should also go through Parliament.”

As such protests affect the economy of the state and the country, Ghosh said, the TMC is ensuring that it continues. “They want political benefits from it. This is a conspiracy to tarnish the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There should be a limit to the politicization of everything.”

The TMC hit back, questioning why the Center was sitting on Kurmi’s demand for so long, and noted that the ball was in its court. “It is a sensitive issue… the state government is sensitively looking at their demands. But one has to understand that the state government cannot solve their problems, the central government has the power and position to do so. If the Center does not accept their demands, the state government cannot take any constitutional action in this regard,” TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh said, adding that the protest was affecting people’s livelihood.

TMC Rajya Sabha MP Santanu Sen said the Center was blamed for the protests continuing. “Railways falls under the Centre. Why is the RPF (Railway Protection Force) personnel not working to remove the blockade from the track? Sen asked.

West Bengal backward class welfare department secretary, Sanjay Bansal, wrote a letter on Friday to central government’s Tribal Research Institute (TRI) and tribal affairs ministry secretary Anil Kumar Jha, requesting to see them. According to the demand of the Kurmi community. The West Midnapore district administration sent a copy to the protesting Kurmi group, requesting them to lift the blockade.

Kurmis were not included among the communities classified as ST in the 1931 census and were also excluded from the ST list in 1950. In 2004, the Jharkhand government recommended that the community be included in the list of STs instead of Other Backward Classes (OBCs). )

After the recommendation, the matter went to TRI, which held that the Kurmis were a tribe and not a tribe of Kunbis. Based on this, the Center rejected the demand to consider Kurmis as ST. As a result, Kurmi members are now recognized as OBCs in several states including West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha and UP.

However, community members insist that their ancestors are from Indian tribal groups.

Ajit Mahato, chief advisor of Adivasi Kurmi Samaj, acknowledged receiving the letter from the West Midnipur district administration. “We are looking into the contents of the letter. Discussions are going on whether the blockade will be lifted or not. “I can’t comment on anything right now unless the matter is discussed in depth,” he said.

When asked about the demand of Kurmis, JD(U) national spokesperson KC Tyagi said: “We are not opposing the demand for ST status for Kurmis in Odisha and Jharkhand. But the case of Bihar is different. Also, Nitish Kumar has done a lot for OBCs and EBCs.” Tyagi also said that Bengal has a very small Kurmi population.

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