GORKHA ADIVASI POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE: The seven that withstood the winds of change – why and how they did it

GORKHA ADIVASI POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE: The seven that withstood the winds of change – why and how they did it – and the struggle for self rule in the North continues with a ‘yet to be expanded’ consensus ?!!

North Scorecard - a "Blessing in Disguise" for "New Statehood" seekers ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH BUREAU

June 2: The winds of change failed to have any major impact on the seven municipalities in north Bengal that went to the polls on May 30 along with 74 others across the state.

Although the Trinamul Congress made marginal gains in the four municipalities in Cooch Behar district, the status remains more or less the same in all seven in the region except for Mathabhanga. In Cooch Behar’s Mathabhanga, the CPM and Trinamul won six seats each and the civic board will be determined by the toss of a coin.

The outcome in Dinhata, also in Cooch Behar, was particularly disappointing for Trinamul as it was there that the party had made its first major breakthrough by defeating the Forward Bloc on its home turf in the 2006 Assembly elections. Although there was a pro-Trinamul wave during the run-up to the polls, the party had little to show for it (see chart below).

The Congress, however, will have to fall back upon Trinamul in the two municipalities of Cooch Behar and Englishbazar in Malda to gain control of the respective boards as they do not have single majority in either.

So where were the winds that swept Trinamul into the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and many more municipalities in south Bengal?

“I noticed during the campaign by Trinamul leaders in north Bengal that they only harped on the issues of Singur and Nandigram and highlighted their allegations about the CPM’s terror tactics. Frankly speaking, these events have been taking place too far away for the electorate here to sit up and notice,” said Sanjoy Chakrabarty, the secretary of the Jalpaiguri Welfare Organisation, an NGO.

Katalguri Tea Estate reopens after 8 years - a stronghold of the GJM Dooars branch ?!! (Photo Himalaya Darpan)

The people here, Chakrabarty felt, were habituated to seeing Mamata Banerjee jump into the fray whenever something cropped up in south Bengal but she rarely came to the north. “She visited the closed Kanthalguri tea garden in August 2007, five years after it had been shut down and toured the other estates too the same year,” said Chakrabarty, who is not known to have any political leanings and is well-known in the district.

In fact, Chakrabarty said, north Bengal has been a traditional Congress belt, barring Cooch Behar district, where the Left Front has retained power in the three municipalities of Mathabhanga, Toofangunj and Dinhata. “The Left has retained the Old Malda municipality as well and the Congress fared marginally better in Englishbazar,” he said.

Other observers pointed out that never during their campaigns did the Trinamul leadership touch upon issues like the situation in the Darjeeling hills, closed tea gardens and the overall underdevelopment of the region. “The Congress and CPM leadership mentioned these issues during their campaigns. Leaders like Nirupam Sen (CPM) and Deepa Das Munshi (Congress) were very prompt to raise these issues,” the observer said.

Trinamul district leaders blamed the top brass for the poor show in north Bengal. A senior party leader in Cooch Behar said the state leaders paid scant attention to the party organisation in the district. “We had to put up with the money and muscle power of the CPM and the Congress during the campaign, very little was sent to us from Calcutta,” a district leader rued.

“We would have certainly done better had the top party leadership concentrated a little more on Englishbazar rather than put in all their efforts behind Calcutta and south Bengal. We had Partha Chatterjee campaigning for the party on one occasion and it was plain that he was just going through the motions,” said Babla Sarkar, a Trinamul state committee member in Malda.

He said the party’s poor show in Englishbazar could also be attributed to very poor campaigning. “In some wards, the party had put up very weak candidates, like Dolly Chowdhury in ward 14. She is a greenhorn and she could not poll more than 574,” Sarkar said.

Malda district president of Trinamul Gautam Chakrabarty alleged that unlike in Calcutta, where the absence of an alliance with the Congress did not affect the anti-Left votes, it was not the case in Englishbazar. “In many wards the anti-Left votes were split between us and the Congress,” he said.

Trinamul buzz ends in whimper in Dinhata – ripe for the plucking – can Bimal Gurung and the GJM go in for non-parochial ‘regional coalitions’ without asking parties to renounce their flags and ideologies, yet allied to the greater Statehood cause – tough decisions ?!!

Forward Bloc supporters celebrate the party’s victory in Dinhata, Cooch Behar, on Wednesday. (Photo by Main Uddin Chisti)

BY MAIN UDDIN CHISTI

Cooch Behar, June 2: The buzz that the Trinamul Congress would make inroads into the Dinhata municipality had been born after the 2006 Assembly elections when the party sank its teeth for the first time into the traditional Forward Bloc bastion.

But despite the buzz, the Left Front retained the Dinhata municipality this time by winning 13 of the 15 wards. Trinamul could not increase its tally that stuck to two seats. The Congress that had won two wards in 2005 has been wiped out of the Dinhata civic body.

Trinamul’s Ashok Mondol, who had defeated Udayan Guha, the son of late Bloc stalwart Kamal Guha, by 3,630 votes in the 2006 Assembly elections, won from ward 6. The other Trinamul winner is Rabi Dey in ward 11.

All Bloc candidates fielded in nine wards won. The CPM that had fielded five candidates and supported an Independent won in four wards.

Political observers here pointed out that after his defeat in the Assembly elections, Guha concentrated on strengthening the Bloc which had been riddled by factionalism, particularly after the demise of Kamal Guha.

“After tasting defeat in the hands of the Trinamul Congress, Udayan, instead of becoming aloof remained active in politics and continued to rally his forces. Another major factor was the close and coordinated strategies that he adopted with the CPM in the district, something that was rarely seen earlier,” an observer said.

In fact, the killing of five Bloc supporters on February 5, 2008, in a police firing in front of the subdivisional office in Dinhata had left the two Left Front partners opposed to each other. “This had an effect on the May 2008 panchayat polls and Trinamul made inroads into panchayat samities where the Left had sitting MLAs,” the observer said.

However, he said it was quite surprising to see the rapport Guha had built with the CPM in recent times so that the Dinhata municipality remained with the Left Front.

It is not that Trinamul had not gained in the district. “The party has won from three wards in Cooch Behar, six in Mathabhanga and four in Toofanganj taking its number up from six to 15 in all the four municipalities in Cooch Behar district.

“The Left Front will independently form the boards in the Dinhata and Toofanganj municipalities. We are satisfied with the results and the people have voted in our favour,” Guha said after the results were declared.

The district president of Trinamul, Rabindranath Ghosh, did not have much to say. “We will have to analyse the results, that is all I can say at the moment,” he said.

DHR union protests plains office – Agitation decision after june 4 – no more currying upto Bengal in the plains, final realisation or re-capitulation to Bengal’s ideals ?!!

Elysia Building, the DHR headquarters, in Kurseong - but conveniently controlled by Siliguri ?!! (Photo by Suman Tamang)

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Darjeeling, June 2: Employees of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway have threatened to start an agitation over the Northeast Frontier Railway’s reported move to open a camp office for the toy train in Siliguri.

The authorities, however, said such DHR offices already existed in the plains.

The DHR is supposed to function from the Elysia Building in Kurseong which was its headquarters before 1948. It was renovated for about Rs 80 lakh in 2006 to house the director’s office. But till date the office is not fully functional.

“It has come to the notice of our union that plans have been mooted for opening a camp office of the DHR in Siliguri. The opening of the office will lead to a situation where the Elysia Building, which was envisaged to be the DHR headquarters, will become redundant and will be permanently reduced to a museum,” said Anand Rai, the Kurseong branch secretary of the Intuc-affiliated NF Railway Employees’ Union.

The railways’ decision to revive the Elysia Buildling was aimed to provide greater autonomy to the DHR in recognition of its World Heritage status. In 1999, the Unesco had accorded the status to the toy train, making the DHR the first railway system in India to be awarded such a status.

Even though the railways’ long-term plan was to go in for structural changes and to create a separate unit for the DHR, an “adapted management plan” for the toy train had been mooted in 2005-06 to be supervised through the Katihar division.

According to the plan, a senior manager was to be placed in Kurseong, who would be supported by a mechanical and a civil engineer.

The arrangement was aimed at providing more autonomy at the local level. Later, the railways made a change in its plan and instead decided to appoint a director for the DHR.

The employees’ union has sought an appointment with the DHR authorities on June 4. “If a solution is not arrived at during that meeting, we will decide on our next course of agitation, which could even mean complete closure of the DHR offices,” a source in the union said.

The union members have managed to whip up emotion in the hills. “We cannot tolerate such a retrograde step, which is anti-hills and stands in violation of the original plan. We request the officials not to take any step which may ignite the regional passion in an already volatile situation in the hills,” said Rai.

P.P. Roy, the DHR director, said over the phone from Dehra Dun: “This is nothing new. There are offices of the DHR already in Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri. I also have my office at the Elysia Building. Since there are frequent strikes in the hills, a situation in which the entire DHR comes to a halt cannot be allowed. This is why there are offices in the plains.”

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