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Barla to fight rural polls with Morcha

Siliguri, Jan. 30: John Barla today said he would contest the upcoming panchayat polls as an ally of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha but the tribal leader desisted from commenting on the statehood demand.

Earlier this month, Barla, who had been thrown out of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad and formed the north Bengal unit of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), had said that he would no longer support Morcha’s demand for a separate state.

“We might have differences over the issue of separate statehood as tribals in the Terai and Dooars are against it. But we will continue to be allies and right now we are focusing on the panchayat polls,” Barla said today.

The rural elections are likely to be held in May and four blocks in the Terai and seven in the Dooars will vote for all three tiers of the panchayat system.

“It is up to the Morcha leaders in the foothills to decide whether they will participate in the Gorkhaland movement or not as the central leaders of the party have decided to resume it (the statehood agitation). In that case, we will remain silent and keep on working for the rural votes,” Barla said.

He added that they had approached Trinamul to form an alliance but received no reply from the party.

“We have been fighting for our rights and demands under the banner of the co-ordination committee which comprises Morcha and some other organisations and parties. A proposal was mooted from our side (Barla and the Morcha) and we had met north Bengal development minister and Trinamul leader Gautam Deb (in November) to join hands with us. But no communication was made from Trinamul’s side. Considering the present state of affairs, we want to say that common candidates would be fielded by us and the Morcha under the banner of JMM and the Morcha in the respective panchayat seats,” said the tribal leader.

“According to our assessment, we have seen that Trinamul cannot be counted as a party with considerable political force in the Terai and Dooars. Their trade union is new with an insignificant base in the brew belt. The party does not have any political representative in the Dooars and Terai and its presence is limited to only some towns in the region,” he added.

Earlier this month, Barla had said he would no longer support the Morcha’s demand for a separate state as the hill party had not shown any interest in forming the Gorkhaland Adivasi Territorial Administration, including Darjeeling and the Dooars.

Morcha leaders in the Dooars stood by Barla after the announcement today.

“Our alliance with John Barla and the JMM is more than a year old. It will continue and we will contest the panchayat polls together. We are waiting for instructions from our central leaders to resume the movement for Gorkhaland. But that does not mean we will shift our focus from the panchayat polls,” said Madhukar Thapa, a central committee leader of the Morcha from the Dooars.

“We will definitely contest the rural polls and we intend to bag the majority of seats to work for development of the backward population in the Dooars and Terai. Like the GTA, which we consider as a tool for development in the hills, we will utilise the offices of the public representatives under the three-tier panchayat system (in the plains) to meet the basic demands of food, health, housing, road, electricity and employment of our people,” the Morcha leader said.

Trinamul had contested against the Morcha in some seats during the GTA polls in 2012.

“As of now, there is no question of an alliance with Trinamul. So far as the Dooars and Terai are concerned, the party (Trinamul) lacks base in these areas,” said Thapa.

Today, Trinamul leaders in Jalpaiguri district said the widening rift between the party and the Morcha was unlikely to have any negative effects on the panchayat polls.

“Focusing on the Dooars and Terai, we have taken up micro-level campaigns. Residents have also realised the chief minister’s sincerity in improving their socio-economic conditions.We are working alone and have not forged any alliance so far,” said a senior Trinamul leader who did not wish to be named.

“We might lack a trade union base and not have many public representatives. But, we are ahead in terms of the development process that has been taken up by our government and we expect a favourable mandate.”