The increasing use of firewood instead of LPG cylinders among forest villagers of Alipurduar district owing to the steady rise in prices of domestic gas and withdrawal of subsidies on LPG has prompted district Trinamul leaders to launch a movement against the saffron camp on the issue and try to revive its support among tribal people.
Not just forest dwellers, the poor people in tea estates in several north Bengal districts have also begun using firewood instead of LPG cylinders in recent times.
“We have started the process to tell people about the empty promises of the BJP and the Narendra Modi government, which never misses out the chance to crow about the Ujjwala Yojana (the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana). The present situation is proof that the scheme is now only on paper,” said Prakash Chik Baraik, the district Trinamul president.
In Alipurduar, there are 65 forest villages where around 30,000 families reside. The district is dotted with 67 tea estates where some 1.6 lakh families live. Most are from tribal and Gorkha communities.
According to administrative sources, around 80 per cent population of the district are Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, among which the BJP has enjoyed considerable clout.
“Most of these families had received free LPG connections under the Centre’s scheme. These days subsidies on cylinders have stopped reaching them while on the other hand, LPG prices are soaring. They are in distress. We believe it is a pertinent issue to expose the saffron camp, while simultaneously highlighting the social welfare schemes of the state government for them,” said a Trinamul leader.
Trinamul leaders have also begun flagging the issue at the gate meetings in each tea estate for the past few days, said party insiders.
According to them, along with several issues pertaining to the tea industry and job conditions of workers, Trinamul leaders are also referring to the rise in LPG prices.
Since last year’s Assembly elections, Alipurduar district has been in the radar of Mamata Banerjee’s party, particularly because it is one of the couple of districts where Trinamul, despite its resounding victory in the state, could not win a single seat.
“All five MLAs are of the BJP and so is the lone MP... Here, one of the key reasons for the saffron camp’s success is the activities of certain organisations of the Sangh Parivar, particularly the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, in tribal belts. That is why Trinamul has recast its focus on tribal areas, this time using the LPG issue,” said a political observer.
The Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram under the RSS is known for running schools for tribal children and for hosting mass marriages of poor tribal couples.
A senior Trinamul functionary in the district mentioned that the party’s top brass is also keen to revive their vote bank in Alipurduar and is adopting strategies like the saffron party and referred to a recent statement of the chief minister.
Last month, Mamata, while attending a virtual administrative meeting from Nabanna, had mentioned that she would visit Alipurduar soon to attend a mass marriage that would be convened by the police and administration.
“This is a clear indication that she has a strategy to counter the BJP and its frontal outfits. We are confident that her visit, coupled with the social welfare schemes, would help us to regain our support,” the Trinamul leader said.