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Trinamul eyes Barla for Terai hold
Want to ‘weigh’ options, says JMM

Feb. 7: The Trinamul Congress is pinning its hopes on the tribal group led by John Barla to find a toehold in the adivasi-dominated Dooars and Terai ahead of the panchayat polls in the wake of the government’s strained relations with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, according to sources.

Observers said the meeting between Mamata Banerjee and Barla and other leaders of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha at Writers’ Buildings yesterday betrayed Trinamul’s attempt to align with the tribal outfit.

Barla claimed that the chief minister had promised to fulfil some of the long-standing demands of the adivasis like land rights for tea garden dwellers and the establishment of Hindi-medium schools in the plains.

“Trinamul’s base is limited to some villages and towns in the Dooars and Terai. It doesn’t have a strong trade union in tea gardens or a tribal leader to win over the adivasis ahead of the elections. As we have supporters in the region, Trinamul needs us in the polls,” said a close aide to Barla.

Barla had formed the north Bengal unit of the JMM after he had fallen out with the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad. He said on January 30 that although the JMM didn’t support the Morcha’s renewed agitation for Gorkhaland, both the parties would together contest the panchayat polls.

“Barla’s statement came when the chief minister was touring north Bengal. So, Trinamul might have felt that it was time the government intervened and detached the JMM from the Morcha. Mamata invited Barla and other JMM leaders to Calcutta yesterday and promised to give land rights to people living in tea plantations in the Terai and the Dooars among other things,” said an observer.

Trinamul at present seems reluctant to admit that it is out to woo the adivasis with a political motive. One of its leaders, who did not want to be named, said: “The government wants to satisfy the tribal populace by meeting their basic demands of land rights, educational infrastructure, employment opportunities and socio-economic development. It is too early to say such a move will transform into an alliance between the JMM and Trinamul.”

Sukra Munda of the JMM parried questions on the possibility of an electoral understanding between his party and Trinamul.

“We (the JMM) have a good relation with the state government, which has already promised to look into some of our demands. The chief minister has already visited the Dooars and is likely to come again. We are not against the state government, but we haven’t snapped our ties with the Morcha. Only after weighing our options, we can say if there will be an alliance with Trinamul. We will sit and discuss recent developments,” he said.

Barla had met minister and Trinamul leader Gautam Deb at Mongpong in November and invited him to join the Morcha-JMM combine. Barla had said 10 days back that Deb had not got back to him then.

“However, given the present state of affairs and the growing differences between the Morcha and Trinamul, it is likely that Trinamul will try for a tie-up with Barla. Any tie-up between Trinamul and Barla would weaken the Morcha in the Dooars and the Terai,” said an observer.

Barla today said the JMM was not with the Morcha as far as the Gorkhaland movement was concerned. “We had joined hands with the Morcha to fight for GATA (the Gorkhaland Adivasi Territorial Administration). As far as panchayat polls are concerned, we are with the Morcha. The state government, on the other hand, is addressing our grievances. So, we will review the situation before taking a final decision on the alliance.”

Trinamul minister Gautam Deb said the government wants peace and development in the hills and the plains. “Our government is working for different communities, including adivasis, to improve their socio-economic conditions. Trinamul is also taking up the pending problems of the adivasis.”