Tribals tell Cong: Autonomy for poll prop

Read more below

  • Published 10.03.11

March 9: The Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad has made it clear to Congress leaders in Delhi that the tribals are willing to support the party in the Dooars and the Terai if it agrees to work for the Sixth Schedule status for the region after the Assembly elections.

The tribal outfit has threatened to put up its own candidates in 15 Assembly seats in the Adivasi-dominated Terai and the Dooars and North Dinajpur if the Congress refuses to toe the Parishad line.

A six-member Parishad delegation led by Sukra Munda met Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel and the Congress’s Raiganj MP Deepa Das Munshi among others in Delhi yesterday evening.

“The elections are not very important for us. But we are very serious about a regional autonomy under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. The Terai and the Dooars and its tribal-dominated population have long been denied proper development by the state government and we impressed upon the Congress leaders our demand. I hope they have been able to understand our point of view,” said Munda, who is also the chairman of the outfit’s labour wing, the Progressive Tea Workers’ Union.

“If the Congress does not agree, then we will field candidates in all 12 seats in Jalpaiguri district and also in Phansidewa and Rajganj in Darjeeling district and Chopra in North Dinajpur,” he added.

The Parishad, strongly opposed to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha which has been demanding parts of the Terai and the Dooars for Gorkhaland, has been playing its cards close to the chest ever since the elections were announced.

It had issued a fiat to all Adivasis in the region not to join the campaigns of any political party till matters were cleared. Central trade unions like the Citu and the Intuc had their bases eroded when the Parishad launched its labour union in March last year.

The tribal outfit is expected to wield considerable clout in Kumargram, Kalchini, Madarihat, Nagrakata, Mal and Phansidewa, the six Assembly constituencies reserved for ST candidates where the Adivasis are in majority Of the six seats, Kalchini was wrested by the Morcha-supported Wilson Chompromary in the 2009 by-election. The rest are with the Left Front.

“The Parishad began influencing political issues after 2007 when the Gorkhaland movement was renewed and the Morcha demanded the inclusion of the Dooars and Terai in their proposed state. The Adivasis are very committed to their community and the Parishad is the platform that unites them socially. The Parishad will have a strong influence in the manner in which the Adivasis vote in these tribal- dominated seats,” said an observer.

But Parishad sources said the organisation was wary about the Trinamul Congress and the Morcha. “Mamata Banerjee had visited the hills last year and made many promises for Darjeeling. We are waiting so see what the Trinamul Congress stand will be regarding the Morcha that has also said it will field candidates in the Terai and the Dooars,” a Parishad leader said.

Observers, however, said the emergence of the Parishad as a potent political voice and the Morcha’s bid to enter the Dooars would throw the contest in the six seats wide open. The Left has already seen erosion among its rank and file in the tea gardens in the Dooars and the Parishad’s open opposition to the present state government does not augur well for the Left parties, the observers said.

PCC secretary and former Congress Jalpaiguri district president Biswaranjan Sarkar admitted that the Parishad had handed over its demand to Ahmed Patel.

“Patel has forwarded it to Sonia Gandhi. There is also a possibility that the Parishad members will meet Pranab Mukherjee,” Sarkar, who was present at yesterday’s meeting, said over the phone from Delhi.