Mamata Banerjee is felicitated in Malbazar, Jalpaiguri, on February 12 by Somji Bhai Damor, the all-India president of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad. On stage is Birsa Tirkey (extreme right), the state president of the Parishad
Siliguri, March 11: The Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad today announced its support for Trinamul in the Lok Sabha elections.
The announcement, which could boost Trinamul’s chances in the Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar Lok Sabha seats, has come a day after the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha announced it would support BJP candidates in Darjeeling, Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri.
The way the contest is set now, the Morcha, which wants statehood, and the BJP, known to favour creation of smaller states, are pitted against Trinamul, which is against dividing Bengal and the Parishad, which shares the state’s ruling party’s stand on the matter.
Of the tea garden unions in the Dooars and Terai, the Parishad-backed Progressive Tea Workers’ Union (PTWU) is the strongest. It has worker unions in almost every garden in the Dooars and Terai. Most of the workers in the tea gardens are tribals, except in few pockets where Gorkhas are larger in number.
The Parishad’s sign of support — this is the first time the outfit has officially said it would support a particular party — has come about a month after the tribal organisation felicitated chief minister Mamata Banerjee in Jalpaiguri for the development work done by the government for them.
Birsa Tirkey, the state president of the Parishad, said from Calcutta over phone today: “The initiative taken by Mamata Banerjee for the tribals is unprecedented in this state. We are overwhelmed by her sincerity to help the backward tribal population by initiating socio-economic development. So we have decided to issue a directive to the tribal community to vote for Trinamul candidates.”
Tirkey added: “Tribals will vote Trinamul across Bengal and also in other states where Trinamul will field candidates for the Lok Sabha polls.”
The sitting MP of Jalpaiguri, which is a seat reserved for Scheduled Castes, is the CPM’s Mahendra Roy. Alipurduar, a Scheduled Tribe seat, is held by the RSP’s Manohar Tirkey. Both have got tickets for the same seats this time.
Trinamul has fielded a new face in Jalpaiguri — Rabindra Bharati University assistant registrar Bijoy Krishna Burman. In Alipurduar, the candidate is Dasarath Tirkey, who switched from the RSP to Trinamul after the recent Rajya Sabha elections.
Trinamul is expected to benefit the most in Alipurduar where the tribals make up around 60 per cent of the voters.
Their percentage is around 15 per cent each in Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling.
North Bengal development minister Gautam Deb, aware that his party is unlikely to get any Gorkha votes after the Morcha leadership’s directive to plains supporters to vote for the BJP, said he was “happy” with the Parishad’s announcement.
He said the Trinamul government had “tried to do our best to bring development to the tribal belt in north Bengal”.
As examples he cited revision of tea workers’ wages, the opening of Hindi-medium colleges and ration shops in tea gardens.
It is the Left, which is already under siege from Trinamul across the state, which could suffer the hardest.
“Since 2009, Trinamul has made inroads into the tea gardens and set up units of the INTTUC there,” said a CPM leader. “The Parishad-backed Progressive Tea Workers’ Union is the strongest union in the tea gardens here.”
He said that in such a scenario a signal by the Parishad to garden workers to support the Trinamul would have a “significant bearing” on the voting pattern here in the coming elections.
“We used to depend a lot on the tribal support to win elections here,” the CPM leader said.
Salil Acharya, a district secretariat member of the Jalpaiguri unit of the CPM told The Telegraph: “We are against identity politics. Whether it is the Morcha or the Parishad, they are just trying to create a rift between the different communities living here. We are opposed to such vote-bank politics. The people of this region will give a fitting reply to such outfits.”