THE POWER OF A PADA CLUB
India Today|October 04, 2021
If the BJP set the rules of microtargeting voters during elections—through its much-analysed booth-management strategies and the well-oiled system of appointing panna pramukhs (people in charge of shepherding/ managing voters whose names appear on a single page of the voter list)—the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal is showing some inventiveness in microtargeting government welfare schemes and more.
Romita Datta

Thanks largely to its enthusiasm for community festivals like Durga Puja but also the famed evening adda in all neighbourhoods, West Bengal has quite a proliferation of local clubs—there is one in virtually every pada (neighbourhood). The pada club is an informal power centre of sorts.

When the Left Front ruled the state (1977-2011), club activities were restricted to organising blood donation camps, hoisting the party flag on May Day (May 1) and holding political processions. The TMC gauged the sway of these clubs early, and ever since it first came to power in 2011, the party has used these pada clubs to build local networks and to sense the public mood ahead of elections. The Mamata government has promoted them heavily, with an estimated Rs 1,300 crore in grants between 2012 and 2020.

Club members are the new foot soldiers of the state government’s welfare programmes. “Clubs [now] help prepare beneficiary lists for government schemes, such as ‘Duare Sarkar’ (government at your doorstep) and Swasthya Sathi (free health insurance). They also assist the government’s fairprice ration outlets—a.k.a. the PDS (public distribution system)—with doorstep delivery of rations,” says Baban Das, a member of the Nabajatri Sangha, a club in south Kolkata.

Rathin Saha of Malay Sangha, a club in Jadavpur, adds: “Our boys work day and night, managing crowds at government camps and helping people fill up forms. Keeping pada men out of relief work after the cyclone last year had led to complaints of nepotism.”

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