‘Both the State and the Centre are suppressing the Kurmi community’: Ajit Prasad Mahato

Kurmi leader and independent candidate from Purulia says the community will keep an equal distance from both the BJP and TMC.

Published : May 01, 2024 17:41 IST - 7 MINS READ

Ajit Prasad Mahato says the Centre can grant ST status to the Kurmi tribe without a proposal from the State as per Article 342 of the Constitution.

Ajit Prasad Mahato says the Centre can grant ST status to the Kurmi tribe without a proposal from the State as per Article 342 of the Constitution. | Photo Credit: Jayanta Shaw

Ajit Prasad Mahato is a prominent voice in the long-running movement by the Kurmi community in West Bengal to be granted Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. Hailing from the Purulia district, where the Kurmi population plays a decisive role in elections, Mahato has been at the forefront of protests and rail blockades demanding ST status for his community. In this interview, Mahato expresses frustration with both the State and Central governments for failing to address the Kurmi demand despite proposals and resolutions being sent. Mahato has decided to contest the upcoming election as an independent candidate from Purulia, saying the Kurmi community will keep equal distance from both the BJP and Trinamool Congress as neither party has taken up their cause sincerely.

Ajit Mahato has been at the forefront of the fight to attain ST status for the Kurmi community in West Bengal. | Video Credit: Interview by Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay; camera by Jayanta Shaw; edited by Samson Ronald K.


We know that the Kurmi vote is a crucial factor in Purulia politics. It often determines which party wins the seat. Can you tell me the exact percentage of the Kurmi population in Purulia?

In our long-drawn tribal movement, I have often been asked by the media about the exact percentage of the Kurmi population. The fact is, the real percentage of the Kurmi people has never been provided in any census. Even in the last census in 2011, there was no clarity on the matter. Estimates vary, with some suggesting 42 per cent, others 52 per cent, and some 33 per cent. Whatever the exact figure may be, one thing is certain: the Kurmi population is a significant factor in elections in Purulia.

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We have seen that in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, a large section of the Kurmi population voted for the BJP, which resulted in the BJP winning the seat by securing almost 50 per cent of the votes. This time you are standing as an independent candidate, and are bound to draw a substantial amount of Kurmi votes. What is the reason behind your decision?

I would like to clarify that we neither supported the BJP nor Trinamool in the past. In 2017, the West Bengal government had sent a proposal and a cabinet resolution recommending that the Kurmi community be granted Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. However, we were unaware of this development at the time and continued with our movement for ST status. Considerable time passed, and it was much later that we obtained a copy of the cabinet resolution. Even after the State government sent the resolution to the Centre, the Centre wrote back asking for justification and further comments, but the State government has not provided any additional comments or justification to date.

The State government keeps telling us, “We have sent it, we have sent it,” but in reality, they have not sent any additional comments or justification. This is why we staged rail blockades for five days in September 2022 and April 2023, and there have been many similar agitations.

The fault also lies with the Centre. They repeatedly state that the State government must send the proposal, but according to Article 342 of the Indian Constitution, the Centre can still grant us ST status. If they can impose Article 370 and grant ST status to other tribes, then why not to us? Arjun Munda himself was not originally an ST; he was an OBC. But without any movement, he was granted ST status, while we have not been granted the same despite our struggle. This is our fight. Both the State and central governments are suppressing the Kurmi community.

We are an exploited community, and a community is known by its language, religion, and culture. That is why we are desperate to obtain ST status. So, at Hulhuli Tard in March this year, lakhs of Kurmi people gathered to demand this status. When both the State and the Centre are suppressing us, we are left with no other option but to remain equidistant from both the BJP and Trinamool—we will not vote for either party.

In 2019, there was an organisation called Adivasi Ekta Manch, comprising Santhal, Munda, Oraon, Mahali, and other listed Scheduled Tribes, and they had resolved not to allow the Kurmi community to get ST status. Rabindra Tudu was heading that organisation, and his wife, Birbaha Soren, was a Trinamool candidate. We proclaimed that we would not give her any votes because they had gone against us. In an open meeting, we had decided not to vote for Rabin Tudu’s wife, Birbaha Soren, but we never said who we would give our votes to. This turned out to be a plus point for the BJP. However, the BJP’s stance on a uniform civil code goes against our essential caste customs, and we are totally against it.

This time, we have decided to keep both parties at an equal distance and do our own thing. Today, Jyotirmay Mahato (BJP MP from Purulia), Nepal Mahato (Congress candidate), and Dhiren Mahato (Forward Bloc candidate) are all Kurmis, but who will get the Kurmi vote?

Speaking for myself, when we did the rail blockade, not a single political leader from the Kurmi community joined us. I was the only one providing leadership, and all of us sat there for five days without food or anything. Neither Jyotirmay Mahato, nor Dhiren Mahato, nor Nepal Mahato, nor Santiram Mahato (Trinamool candidate from Purulia) came to the protest site even once. Today, our demand has reached every household because of our movement. On May 3rd, I will file my nomination. Some people go to file their nominations in Scorpios or on elephants, but I will go riding a “Kara” (buffalo, an integral part of the agriculture-based Kurmi community’s life).

With you standing for the election, there is an uncertainty as to who has the advantage in the coming polls. Which party do you think will benefit from this?

The fact is, after more than 75 years, not just Kurmis, but all tribal people are having to serve under higher caste people due to the politics of the State and the Centre. There are those among us who serve under these higher caste people, lord over us, and try to force us to serve under them. We are strongly opposed to this practice. In the days to come, we will not serve under any political party. Instead, through our Kurmi movement, we will try to convince people of the importance of preserving our distinct ethnicity. For so long, no political party has talked about the Kurmis or the preservation of our distinct ethnicity; only the Adivasi Kurmi community and a few small organisations that support the Kurmis have addressed these issues.

In the villages, the Kurmi people are talking about a lack of development, scarcity of water and electricity, bad roads, etc. Has the issue of development no place in your election campaign?

When we talk about preserving our distinct ethnicity, we are also talking about our distinct language, faith, and culture. Simply put, if you take a fish out of the water, can it survive? Without our distinct ethnicity and identity, nothing else matters. If people were just happy with food, water, and shelter, would there be any reason for them to go to prison? But still, people go to jail because they don’t have any freedom.

Roads and hospitals are minimum requirements that any party will have to provide if they want to engage in politics. But without its language, faith, and culture, there will be genocide of a people.

Also Read | Trinamool, BJP locked in an intense, evenly-matched battle in West Bengal

Are the reasons for contesting in Purulia the same for fielding a candidate in Jhargram, where too there is a sizable Kurmi population?

This was something we had decided during the time when we held a congregation at Hulhuli Tard. We decided to contest the election and see what the problems and issues were. Since no political party is taking up issues on our behalf, we decided to contest the election ourselves. So, in Purulia, there is Ajit Mahato; in Jhargram, Surya Singh Beshra; in Medinipur, Kamalesh Mahato; Swapan Mahato in Balurghat, and Surajit Singh Karmali in Bankura.

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