Jaigaon (Alipurduar), June 23: A 12-hour bandh that the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad had called in the Dooars today to protest Bimal Gurung’s presence failed in the very block the hill leader was campaigning in.
The strike’s failure in Kalchini — in other places in the Dooars the bandh held — kicked off a blame game between the Parishad’s Kalchini block committee president Rajesh Barla and Rajesh Lakra, the secretary of the north Bengal regional committee of the outfit.
But observers in the Dooars said the Parishad had lost supporters in Kalchini to the JMM and the failure of the bandh could be a pointer to that.
Rajesh Barla said: “Our leaders did not inform us about the strike yesterday and we couldn’t make announcements over loudhailers. The leadership had only told the media about the strike. So, our workers didn’t picket roads.”
Rajesh Lakra said Rajesh Barla “is not telling the truth”.
“We informed all block leaders in the Dooars about today’s strike. In Kalchini, few leaders might be supporting the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and that is why Wilson Chapramari won the Assembly election. I don’t know how the administration could grant permission to Gurung to hold meetings. If there is any law-and-order problem, the authorities will be held responsible,” he said.
In a letter to the Jalpaiguri district magistrate last week, the Parishad had threatened to call the strike if Morcha leaders were allowed by the administration to campaign in the Dooars.
The Parishad leaders said a campaign by Morcha president Gurung, who is in favour of including the Dooars and Terai in the GTA Sabha and the proposed Gorkhaland state, could lead to a breach of peace.
Lakra had said yesterday that if Gurung was not sent back to the hills, the Parishad would observe an indefinite strike in the Dooars from Monday.
But today, he said: “We will again sit tomorrow to discuss the issue and decide on our future strategy.”
“A large number of supporters left the Parishad and joined the JMM recently. As the JMM has entered into an alliance with the Morcha for the rural polls, Gurung enjoys enough support in the block now,” said an observer.
Gurung was not deterred by the Parishad's threat and has been campaigning for Morcha-JMM candidates in different areas of Jaigaon on the Indo-Bhutan border, 62km from Alipurduar, since Friday.
All shops in Kalchini remained open today and several small vehicles were on the road in Kalchini and Hamiltangunj.
The situation was not different elsewhere in Kalchini block. Life was normal at Hasimara, Jaigaon, Dalshingpara and Manglabari.
This morning, when Gurung’s convoy of at least 25 vehicles reached Khokla Basti in Jaigaon, around 300 people were waiting for him. He spent half an hour there and went to Upper Khokla Basti.
The Morcha leader addressed a small gathering in front of a church, from where one can see hills in Bhutan.
“I am here not to canvass for our candidates. I feel very sad when you are in trouble. All the people in this region are like my family members. Whenever you will be in problem, I will be with you. The areas are still under-developed. Tomorrow, there will be a meeting at Gopi Mohon ground (Jaigaon) at 1pm and everybody should be there,” said Gurung.
Talking to Metro, Gurung harped on the under-development of the Dooars.
“You see, on the other side is Bhutan and how much development is there. But in this area, roads are in bad condition and there is no proper health service either. The main plank of politics in the Dooars should be under-development. If our candidates win the election from the region, we will gain strength to ask the government to carry out development works.”
When asked about the strike, the Morcha chief said: “They called a strike to stop me but I am carrying on with the campaign. Stopping a couple of vehicles on the road does not mean strike. I will declare the election issues at tomorrow’s meeting.”
P.T. Ola, the organising secretary of the Morcha and a member of GTA Sabha, said: “We are waiting for the report of the Fact Verification Committee (that is looking into the Shyamal Sen panel’s recommendation that only five mouzas in the plains be brought under the GTA Sabha).
“If we have a good number of elected representatives from the Dooars, it will be a message for the central and state governments. People need instant relief and without an administrative set-up, how can development take place?”