Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tribal boomerang
POLITICAL expediency generally demands that party leaders target each other’s policies and claim something or the other will boomerang in the long run. As far that readers know from newspaper reports on the failure of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee-Bimal Gurung talks on the Gorkhaland issue and the agitation that began spreading towards the Dooars, the West Bengal chief minister feared there would be unrest and peace would be disturbed. But the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad and its Terai-Dooars Coordination Committee then began opposing the Gorkhaland agitators, obviously on instructions from Alimuddin Street. What happened then in the Dooars belt was enough to reveal that the ABAVP activists were following the guidelines of Left leaders. They were also invited to Kolkata to present their demands, which were considered “dead” even before this event took place.
As a bhumiputra (son of the soil) of the Dooars, born and brought up in the Katalguri Tea Estate which has been closed since 2002, I would like to reveal that the name and fame of the ABAVP had not been heard of when tribal workers were starving and the death toll kept mounting. Tribal activists and ABAVP supporters should be thankful to the Gorkha Jana Mukti Morcha agitators and the West Bengal chief minister for ensuring the talks failed so as to pave the way for an alternative. The demand to open the closed tea gardens in the Dooars was placed by the Gorkhas and Adivasis who observed an indefinite hungerstrike.
Before the polls in the Dooars belt, especially in the Diana Tea Estate under Banarhat police station, tension prevailed following the standoff between the GJMM and ABAVP. As part of the poll campaign, the newly formed Gorkha Adivasi Mukti Morcha then started to rally support but was attacked by the ABAVP.
When the demands by the tribal activists were not considered genuine, they chose to boycott the poll which was expected to go against the ruling party. But during his campaign, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee requested the Adivasis to withdraw their boycott and the very next day a senior ABAVP leader announced his acceptance in Kolkata, but this was not followed by leaders active in the Dooars belt, one of the reasons being that Manik Sanyal, CPI(M) secretary, Jalpaiguri unit, had said, “The ABAVP demands are illogical.” Later, however, with the situation continuing to remain unsettled, Sanyal promised, “We are working for the overall development of the tribals.”
That these tribal activists refused to vote was all very well, but that they prevented others from exercising their voting rights was undemocratic and illegal. Eight persons were arrested from Malbazar for allegedly preventing people from voting. Following the poll boycott call by the ABAVP, no votes were cast in 17 booths in the Alipurduar parliamentary constituency and a poor voter turnout was also noticed in the Banarhat, Kumargram, Falakata and Nagrakata areas. The CPI(M)’s Jalpaiguri district secretariat members were disturbed and discontented with such activities which they considered was an unhealthy sign for democracy. But the Congress leaders of Jalpaiguri district held the state government responsible for the low voter turnout. The Left trade unions have taken the poll boycott and low voters’ turnout seriously and decided to probe the problem with the focus on tribal grievances.
The Centre of Indian Trade Unions, All India Trade Union Congress, United Trade Union Congress and Trade Union Coordination Centre are alarmed at the extent of the indifference among tribal voters in the Terai and Dooars belts. The Citu believes the tea workers are its traditional vote bank.
The most vital and annoying point regarding the grievances and problems of the tribal community in the Terai and Dooars belts is that they feel political parties and state government officials are more concerned about the problems of refugees from Bangladesh since they are the real sympathisers of Bengali-speaking people, and are ready to provide them whatever facilities possible. Neither political leaders nor the trade unions have fathomed this as being the cause of unrest and discontent among the Adivasis. So these leaders have their work cut out.
The TDCC of the ABAVP has alleged that the police had tortured its supporters on the ground that a group of them had torched the old wooden structure of the Nagrakata police station on 5 February this year. The administration filed an FIR against 8,009 ABAVP supporters and since then the police has been arresting them, harassing their family members and raiding their houses randomly.
Mentioning their allegations against the police, the organisation submitted a memorandum to the district magistrate of Jalpaiguri that contained an offer to surrender before the administration. That date was set as 18 May 2009. During the bandh called by the TDCC, tourism in Dooars was badly affected, as happened in Darjeeling. Tribal activists locked the Madarihat Panchayat Samity office, but before doing this they forced the BDO and staff to leave. The Banarhat Merchant Association threatened to stop the supply of food to the tea plantation areas till the situation returned to normal. Due to the TDCC bandh call, bus and train services were cancelled and weekly haats could not be held. When the situation turned serious, the Jalpaiguri district magistrate decided to take bold steps and declared that force would be applied to restore normality in the Dooars.
The TDDC, seeing no way out, withdrew the bandh without giving any reason. They had called the bandh for the release of two activists who had been arrested a few days ago for vandalising six houses in Nagrakata on 30 April 2009 during voting. During the bandh, the activists, armed with bows and arrows, staged road shows and roadblocks in several parts of the Dooars. They were also said to have ransacked shops in Binaguri and Banarhat.
Workers’ unions in the Dooars have since admitted their failure to do anything for the development of tribals in the tea belts. Chita De, veteran leader of the Tea Plantation Workers’ Union, admitted that introspection was needed before condemning the ABAVP agitation. National Union of Plantation Workers joint secretary Mani Darnal has also admitted that workers’ unions had lost control over a large section of the Adivasi people, due to negligence of their problems. All India Hind Majdur Union general secretary Samir Roy felt that the CPI(M) tried to go one better over the GJMM by encouraging the ABAVP in the Terai and Dooars belts, but the Adivasis were denting the CPI(M)’s support base.Birkha
The author is a Darjeeling-based political analyst.

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