Almost everybody has enjoyed a cup of Darjeeling tea. The finest brew, the enchanting aroma gives it a worthy name worldwide. But few outside Bengal know tea industry is currently in a terminal decay. Labour trouble and shoddy infrastructure has meant closing down of many tea gardens. Political parties have paid lip service to the problem but with no avail. Thus for the largely SC-ST dominated constituencies of Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduars filled with tea gardens very little has changed in the ground election after election.
All these three seats are considered as Left bastions. They have been retaining these seats right from 1980. It is primarily because of the stranglehold, Left used to have over tea garden unions. But that influence has gradually ceased. There is a huge amount of disenchantment among the adivasis. The Adivasi Vikas Parishad which has significant influence in this area has pledged their support for the ruling party, Trinamool Congress. This has come as a shot in the arm for Mamata Banerjee who is desperately trying to earn a foothold in the northern part of the state. Thus she has significantly upped the rhetoric on two emotive issues relevant to this area.
Major political issues
Mamata has vehemently opposed the move to sign an agreement with Bangladesh about sharing Teesta water and also completing land boundary agreement. She managed to convince a section of the electorate that sharing the Teesta waters will spell doom for farmers in the region. At her public meetings, she has been opposing the land boundary agreement by saying that India will lose around 10,000 acres if enclaves are exchanged. UPA government was more than willing to ink the two deals with Haseena government but didi proved to be a major obstacle. This has become a major sore point in Indo- Bangla relationship in the last few years. Trinamool leaders have expressed fears that Bangladeshi residents of enclaves in India will not return to their country after the pact is signed. Even though doubts exist over the veracity of her demands at present it is touching a chord with the commoners there. Thus she is likely to continue this line of attack.
BJP- a spoiler
BJP which is projected to improve its vote share across entire Bengal is also likely to do decently well in these 3 constituencies. Like Morcha in the hill it has tied up with Kamtapuri Peoples party here. A section of Bikash Parishad is also supporting the Modi-led party. Thus it hopes to register a mark here. But some amount of core votes BJP used to get among the Bengali youth may shift sides as they are apprehensive of the party’s stance regarding division of the state. It will be interesting to see which party bags those votes.
Among the three constituencies, TMC have their nose ahead in Cooch Behar. According to reports, CPIM will not be able to give agents in many booths. Left though has blamed TMC’s intimidation as the reason behind it. Alipurduars constituency is likely to see an extremely close contest. Incumbent Manohan Tirke of RSP won the last election by over a lakh vote. But now he is up against his one-time trusted lieutenant Dasarath Tirke. Congress and BJP have also put up strong candidates. If finally Manohar wins it will be by dint of vote division and poor organisation of TMC. Jalpaiguri is most likely to go CPIM’s way. The Left base is fast eroding but it still has the edge thanks to divided opponents. Finally, in a close election it will all come down to micro level management of getting the supporters to vote for their candidate. Election in these three constituencies along with Darjeeling takes place on the 17th.