March 1, 2021

Koch Rajpongshi voted in Assam, Bengal

Union Home Minister Amit Shah will visit Assam and West Bengal on Thursday, where he will address a community of importance for the forthcoming Assembly elections in both the states – Koch Rajpongshis.

In Assam, he would visit the house of Ananda Roy, said to be a descendant of the previous royal family of the influential leader Cooch Behar. In West Bengal, the Shah flags off a trip to the Madan Mohan Temple in Cooch Behar.

Who are the Koch Rajpangs?

They are a community that traces its roots to the Kingdom of Kamata, which includes parts of Assam, West Bengal and adjoining areas. “In the Middle Ages, society dominated and ruled the Kamathapur region, which includes much of Bangladesh, West Bengal, Bihar and northeastern India,” wrote researcher Hirokjeet Roy of Economic and Political Weekly in 2014.

After independence, the princely state of Cooch Behar became part of West Bengal. Today, Koch Rajponshis are found in Assam, Meghalaya, West Bengal and Bihar and parts of Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

How politically important are they?

In West Bengal, mostly in the northern districts, they are estimated to be over 33 lakh, and even higher in Assam.

“We are one of the largest communities in Assam with our own language and culture,” said Hitesh Borman, Chief Adviser, All Coach Rajpongshi Students Association (AKRSU). He said the community, though spread across Assam, could influence 28 of the 126 assembly constituencies.

In West Bengal, community may be a determining factor in at least 15 places (out of 294). They have more than 30% of the electorate in North Bengal.

“In many constituencies in Lower Assam, minority votes will dominate. But in many North Bengal constituencies, Koch Rajponshi will be the deciding factor,” said a BJP leader in Assam.

Who was Anantha Roy who visited Shah in Assam?

Gray Grech is the founder of the Cooch Behar People’s Association (GCPA) and declares himself a Maharaj. He used to live in Cooch Behar and now lives in Chirang district of Assam. He told locals that the GCPA was already an ally of the NDA.

“Roy is considered a religious leader in Chirang and has a strong following in the community. Therefore, it is politically important for Amit Shah to come and meet him in Assam, especially in North Bengal,” the senior BJP leader in Assam told The Indian Express.

What are the issues that are important to them?

Many organizations representing the community, mostly centered in West Bengal, are demanding a separate state of Kamathapur, which includes parts of North Bengal and Lower Assam. There is also a militant organization called the Kamathapur Liberation Organization.

“Amit Shah is coming to strengthen the votes of Goth Rajponshi. Anantha Roy has considerable influence because of his position as a religious leader. But the BJP should talk about the problems and demands of the community just like our own state – they should not just look at us for votes,” A.K. Said Barman of SU.

How do the parties attract them?

In West Bengal, they largely supported the Left Front during its 34-year rule. When the Trinamool Congress came to power in 2011, many supported the new ruling party. But in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 7 of the 8 seats in North Bengal.

In 2012, the Trinamool government set up the Cooch Behar Panchanan Pharma University, named after the 19th-century Rajpong leader and reformer. Ahead of the Assembly elections, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has announced three new police battalions in Cooch Behar, including ‘Narayani’; Koch Rajponshis have long demanded a ‘Narayani Regiment’ in the Indian Army. The Center, for its part, recently awarded the Padma Shri to Dharma Narayan Burma, a retired teacher from the community.

In Assam, the government last year formed the Kamathapur Autonomous Council, which includes some of the lower Assam districts, mainly the Koch Rajpongshi villages.

The granting of ST status to Koch Rajponshis (among the six communities in Assam) is in full swing. Last month, BJP national leader JP Natta claimed that ST status had already been granted, but the opposition claimed it was misinformation.