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Eroding base shows in RSP vote switch

Siliguri, Feb. 7: The cross-voting by RSP MLAs Dasrath Tirkey and Ananta Deb Adhikari has shown how the party’s shrinking base in the tea belt, coupled with the growth of Trinamul, has left them with few choices to stay relevant.

Tirkey, who is from a family of tea workers, was a prominent tea union leader. He was one of the few Left leaders to speak out against the KLO between 1998 and 2003 when the outfit killed several Left leaders in north Bengal.

But since 2011, the RSP’s tea estate base, where leaders like Tirkey operated, has shrunk as Trinamul has formed unions in over half of the 150-odd tea gardens in the Dooars.

“Since 2011, several workers and leaders of our party have walked out and joined Trinamul and there was no effort by the district Left Front to stop them,” an RSP leader said.

The leader also gave the Trinamul government some credit for addressing “the grievances of the people”, a point Tirkey also raised yesterday.

Tirkey, the Kumargram MLA, had expressed his intentions to join the state’s ruling party earlier.

An RSP source said: “First of all, the tea trade union of the RSP has suffered a setback because of the emergence of Trinamul’s trade union and also the union backed by Adivasi Vikas Parishad. Second, he (Tirkey) has understood that Mamata Banerjee has succeeded in winning the confidence of the tribal population in the Dooars which is a major vote bank for him. Finally, there might be an aspiration to contest the Parliament polls as a Trinamul candidate from the Alipurduar seat, which is reserved for STs.”

Sources in Trinamul said the MLA had been upset after coming to know that the party was keen to field sitting MP Manohar Tirkey from the Alipurduar seat, not him. “Though the Left Front is yet to publish its list of candidates, Dasrath has got enough hints that the sitting MP would get the ticket,” a source said.

Tirkey, who voted for Trinamul in the Rajya Sabha elections today, said the Mamata Banerjee government was more proactive in fulfilling the aspirations of the people in the Dooars and the Terai. He said yesterday: “We are happy to see that the Trinamul government has met the demands of the people which had gone unnoticed by the erstwhile Left government. So I decided to stand by Trinamul and help the party work for the backward people in the Dooars and Jalpaiguri.”

The adivasis and the Rajbangshis form the main chunk of voters in the Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri Lok Sabha constituencies. While the Alipurduar seat is held by the RSP, Jalpaiguri is with the CPM.

Ananta Deb Adhikari represents Mainaguri Assembly seat, which is a part of the larger Jalpaiguri Lok Sabha constituency.

A source in the RSP said rapid strides made by Trinamul in Mainaguri in the past three years had left no toehold for the RSP in the constituency represented by Ananta Deb Adhikari.

“In the past two-and-a-half years, particularly after the rural polls, Adhikari was hardly left with the political space to work in Mainaguri. Although the Left retained the Jalpaiguri zilla parishad, the Mainaguri panchayat samiti went to Trinamul. Also, many local leaders and workers of the RSP joined Trinamul. The MLA was cornered and did not get much to do in his area,” said the source.

Observers say it’s a matter of time for Adhikari and Tirkey to join Trinamul formally. “Once the two join Trinamul, they will work to consolidate the support base of Trinamul among tribal and Rajbangshi people,” said an observer.

Asked about the likely action the two renegades could face, Sunil Banik, the Jalpaiguri district secretary of the RSP, said: “The state leaders of the RSP are aware of every activity of these two MLAs since yesterday. We are waiting for further instructions from the state leadership.”

“With Tirkey’s switch, Trinamul has an edge in the Alipurduar Lok Sabha seat and is in a position to give a fight to the rivals in the Jalpaiguri Lok Sabha segment,” said the observer.

Trinamul doesn’t have a single Lok Sabha member from north Bengal.

The Alipurduar parliamentary seat comprises the Assembly segments of Nagrakata, Falakata, Alipurduar, Kumargram, Birpara-Madarihat, Kalchini (all in Jalpaiguri district) and Tufanganj (in Cooch Behar district).

After Tirkey’s defection, Trinamul now has Tufanganj, Falakata, Kumargram and Kalchini (whose MLA Wilson Champramari has already started working closely with the party).

“Further, Trinamul is trying to bring in Joseph Munda, the Congress MLA of Nagrakata. The Birpara-Madarihat seat has also witnessed changes since the 2011 Assembly polls. Even though the local MLA is from the RSP, the panchayat samiti, majority of zilla parishad seats and gram panchayats in Birpara-Madarihat are either with the Morcha or Trinamul. Now that Tirkey has left the RSP, the Left party has no prominent leader in Kumargram,” said the observer.

The Jalpaiguri Lok Sabha seat comprises six Assembly segments of Dabgram-Fulbari, Rajganj, Jalpaiguri, Mainaguri, Dhupguri, Malbazar (all in Jalpaiguri district) and Mekhliganj (in Cooch Behar district).

Dabgram-Fulbari and Rajganj Assembly seats are held by Trinamul. With Adhikari’s switch, Mainaguri is also with the party now.

Anil Adhikari, the Trinamul MLA of Falakata and the president of Alipurduar district Trinamul, said both the Congress and the Left were fast losing their base in Jalpaiguri.

“Left MLAs like Tirkey and Adhikari are bound to feel attracted to Trinamul as they know how the state government is relentlessly addressing the problems faced by the Jalpaiguri residents, whether tribals or Rajbangshis, one after another,” Adhikari said. “Further, the setback the Left faced in the two lower tiers of panchayat system in the recent polls dampened the spirit of Left workers and leaders. We are working in all Assembly segments to ensure that both Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri are bagged by Trinamul in the coming parliament polls,” said Anil Adhikari.

Asked if Dasrath Tirkey and Ananta Deb Adhikari had any chance of contesting the parliament polls as Trinamul candidates, Anil Adhikari said nothing had been promised to the duo.

“They might have such ambitions, particularly because Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri seats are reserved for Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste, respectively. But the selection of candidate is made by the party high command. No such promises have been made to them.”

Chandan Bhowmik, the Jalpaiguri district president of Trinamul, obliquely said both the MLAs would join his party.

“There will be by-polls to Kumargram and Mainaguri Assembly seats soon. People have already voted for us in the rural polls and we could bag seats in all three tiers in the Mainaguri block. The RSP now lacks even the minimum support base in the area,” he said.