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Modi wave blows across gardens

Hailakandi, April 9: Polling day is approaching in the Barak valley but Sonia Bhar, a daily wage earner at Karimganj district’s Durlavcherra tea estate and a mother of five, is distraught.

The 50-year-old’s socio-economic condition hasn’t improved from what it was five years ago. “The promises the candidates made then still remain only promises,” she said.

Durlavcherra tea estate under Karimganj parliamentary constituency is 22km from Karimganj town.

Like Sonia, Sujit Nunia, another daily wage earner at Kumbha tea garden under Silchar constituency, has his share of grudges against the leaders who, he said, initially flatter and then deceive.

“Elections come every five years and ahead of each they pledge to solve our problems only to forget later. For instance, nothing has been done to bring down the disparity in the daily wages among the workers of the Barak and Brahmaputra valleys. For the candidates, we are just a vote bank and no one is interested about our welfare,” Nunia, 30, rued.

Currently, a tea labourer in the Barak valley gets Rs 75 per day against Rs 94 received by his Brahmaputra valley counterpart.

All said and done, the mandate of about 3.7 lakh tea garden voters in the two Lok Sabha seats of Silchar and Karimganj, which go to polls on April 9, will be imperative.

As of now, the anti-incumbency factor is looming large against the prospects of the Congress — as the tea garden population, which is otherwise considered the party’s “traditional vote bank”, now wants a change.

The effect of the Narendra Modi wave is being felt in the gardens as well.

Satya Narayan Goala, 40, another worker at Kumbha, said: “We will vote for Narendra Modi’s party even though we do not support Kabindra Purkayastha (the BJP candidate) who hasn’t done anything for our welfare. But we want to see Modi at the helm of affairs.”

The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate had talked about the tea community of Barak valley during his Silchar rally on February 22 and assured the garden workers of help if the party comes to power.

Sanjiv Roy, the president of INTUC’s Cachar unit, who is campaigning in the tea gardens on behalf of Congress candidate Sushmita Dev, admitted that there is a “Modi wave” in the gardens. “But at the same time, the lives of the tea garden people have been upgraded and many hospitals were established in the gardens under public-private partnership in the past few years,” Roy said.

Education might play a part as well.

“Since the level of education is gradually increasing in the gardens, the people now vote according to their own conscience,” said a teacher who lives in a community settled outside the garden.

Despite the odds, both the Congress and BJP are trying to woo the tea garden voters, particularly in the Silchar seat, which has a tea garden population of 2.2 lakh across 109 gardens. Two out of seven MLAs in Silchar are from the tea community.

Karimganj has 1.5 lakh voters belonging to the tea community and two out of eight MLAs from the constituency are from this community.

All four of these MLAs are from the Congress and they have a tough time wooing support for Sushmita Dev in Silchar and sitting MP Lalit Mohan Suklabaidya in Karimganj.

Suklabaidya admitted that the tea gardens of the Barak valley have numerous chronic problems and these have not been addressed during the last several decades for various reasons.

Kiranendu Dutta Choudhury, president of the Barak Valley Cha Mazdoor Sangha, said: “The provisions of the Assam Plantations Act, 1956, have not been implemented and because of this the living conditions of the tea garden community have remained unchanged.”

He said the labourers do not have land pattas either. “From about 17,000 bighas of land, the surplus ceiling land should be given to the labourers. Bangladeshi migrants are allegedly encroaching upon portions of this land near the gardens in the border areas.”

l Hailakandi votes on April 12


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