GORKHA ADIVASI POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS: Hill rivals chalk out comeback strategy – Arrest demand from ABGL : the politics of FIRs ?!!
BY VIVEK CHHETRI
Darjeeling, June 7: Nearly 40 ABGL supporters today demonstrated in front of Darjeeling police station demanding the immediate arrest of the murderers of Madan Tamang, the protest more symbolic of hill opposition parties trying to regroup and make their presence felt.
They shouted slogans against the “black law” of the state government in front of the police station. The demonstration was withdrawn after I.J. Thapa, officer-in-charge of the Darjeeling Sadar police station, assured an ABGL delegation that all efforts were being made to arrest the culprits. Sources said Darjeeling police have sought help from their counterparts in Sikkim to conduct raids in the hill state.
Later, the ABGL supporters, most of them women, blocked Chowk Bazaar for about half an hour. “People are still terrorised and they have not been able to come up openly in our support. We are, however, confident that in the days to come, people will support us as we stand for democracy and peace in the hills,” said Mohan Sharma, the general secretary of the ABGL’s labour wing.
“We had come here to demand the immediate arrests of the accused and the masterminds behind the murder of Madan Tamang. We are planning to hold similar demonstrations in the days to come. If the police fail to act we will also organise an indefinite hunger strike in Darjeeling,” Sharma added.
The ABGL, however, has not set any time frame for the arrests.
In the evening, the Democratic Front, a conglomeration of seven hill-based parties opposed to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, plastered posters in town demanding the arrest of murderers. The posters appealed to the people to support the democratic forces in the hills.
Almost all the opposition parties believe that this is the right time to revive their activities, especially when the Morcha — that has been accused of masterminding the attack on Tamang — is on the back foot.
Sources said the front had held a meeting in Darjeeling on Saturday and finalised its political strategy.
Even a section within the GNLF that is not part of the front thinks that time is right for reviving party activities in the hills. Dawa Pakhrin, a senior GNLF leader, has decided to sever ties with party chief Subash Ghisingh for Gorkhaland.
“He (Subash Ghisingh) is my political guru and I respect him. However, he cannot be above my amma (mother), which is Gorkhaland. I have decided to sever all ties with Subash Ghisingh,” said Pakhrin over the phone from Siliguri, anguished over Ghisingh’s decision to demand the inclusion of the Darjeeling hills in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution instead of statehood. Pakhrin, however, said he would like to remain within the GNLF fold.
“The Morcha, too, is diluting the Gorkhaland demand by talking about interim set-up and now it is ready to re-christen it as Gorkha Adivasi Pradesh. Gorkhaland is about identity and not development. The Morcha might also rename the state as Gorkha-Adivasi-Kamtapuri and go on adding names of various groups, like Greater Cooch Behar,” Pakhrin said.
Morcha chief Bimal Gurung had recently tried to woo the tribal population in the Dooars by offering to rename Gorkhaland as Gorkha Adivasi Pradesh. The tribals under the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad want Sixth Schedule status for the Dooars and the Terai and have refused to be part of the Morcha statehood agitation. (*?!!)
Observers believe that the GNLF leaders could isolate Ghisingh — who had first coined the term Gorkhaland but later relented to the formation of an administrative council for the hills — within his own party.
In fact, sources said the front had sent feelers to Rajen Mukhia, convener of the GNLF’s Terai committee, to be part of a united Opposition. Mukhia is the only GNLF leader who has been able to demonstrate his strength since the Morcha was formed in 2007. Mukhia is yet to announce his decision.
The Morcha however said it was not worried about recent developments and cited the huge turnaround at the May 30 meeting as evidence of its popularity in the hills.
“This is an answer to Asok Bhattacharya and all the people who thought the Morcha has lost support,” Harka Bahadur Chhetri, publicity secretary of the Morcha had said at the meeting.
MEANWHILE IN DOOARS
Dooars workers shun Citu, Intuc – Morcha shuts down gardens in hills, parishad ensures work in plains – so the Gorkha Adivasi Groups did not shut down the Dooars Tea Gardens that Bengal did and continue working towards expanded consensus for separation from Bengal’s control ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, June 7: The support base of established trade unions like Citu and Intuc in the plains took a beating today as their call for a strike was defied by workers in more than 70 per cent of tea gardens in the Terai and the Dooars.
The strike had been called by the Co-ordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers (CCTPW) and the Defence Committee of Plantation Workers’ Rights (DCPWR) — two apex bodies of trade unions in tea plantations — to demand an interim hike in wages.
The Progressive Tea Workers’ Union, the trade union of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad, had opposed the strike and had appealed to the workers to report for work.
However, the 80-odd tea gardens in the Darjeeling hills remained shut because of a separate strike called by the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, an affiliate of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
Although the Morcha had announced the strike yesterday, representatives of its trade union had taken part in a meeting attended by CCTPW and DCPWR leaders in Siliguri on May 25. (*?!!)
The decision to shut down the gardens was taken at that meeting, but the Morcha union made a separate call for the strike, as it did not want to join a movement spearheaded by other organisations.
“We admit that though the strike had been called by the apex bodies of all established trade unions, it was not total for many reasons,” said Chitta Dey, the convener of the CCTPW. “There is, however, no substantial erosion in the support base of our constituent trade unions. Claims that the Parishad and its trade union have eaten into our popularity are irrational. We doubt the sustenance of the Parishad’s community-based stand.”
But Samir Roy, the convener of the DCPWR, claimed that 63 per cent and 47 per cent of the labourers had stayed away from the gardens in the Dooars and the Terai respectively.
“In total, of the 292 tea estates in north Bengal, 146 were shut and 25 were completely open. About 75 per cent workers joined the strike, which means that we enjoy the majority even today,” said Roy. “In the gardens which remained open today, workers were intimidated and forced to join duty,” he alleged.
Industry observers, however, said of the 146 gardens that Roy claimed were open, 87 are in the Darjeeling hills. “In that case, the total gardens in the plains of north Bengal is 205 and the number of those closed today was 59. This means 146 gardens were open. We cannot count the hill gardens because they are under Morcha control. It shows that prominent trade unions like Citu and Intuc have their hold intact in just about one third of the gardens,” said an observer.
“In recent years, trade unions did nothing for the workers and their families, except settling issues like bonus and attending some official meetings. The Parishad, on the other hand, took up many issues related to socio-economic development of the triabls, the majority population in the Dooars. It succeeded in achieving some of the tribal demands like extracting an assurances from the government that Hindi-medium schools and centres for self-employment training would be set up,” he added.
The last major strike in the gardens for hike in wages was spearheaded by the CCPTW in 2005. The 15-day strike ended with a three-year wage agreement that ended in 2008. The fresh agreement that was drawn up in 2008 will end in 2011. Planters have ruled out any wage hike this time, saying that the agreement has not yet ended.
Karala Valley Tea Estate on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri, and Dagapur garden near Siliguri were among the few plantations, which were closed today.
In Denguajhar garden near Jalpaiguri and Suhasini Tea Estate in Alipurduar subdivision, Parishad supporters came to work in long processions, holding their outfit’s flags aloft.
Prabhat Mukherjee, the general secretary of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers, sought to dispel the notion that the Parishad was gaining strength in the plains.
“The assumption was that we did not have any presence in the tea estates and the Parishad enjoyed the majority everywhere. It was proved wrong today though the strike was not total,” he said.
Tezkumar Toppo, the vice-chairman of the Parishad’s union, said: “Almost all the gardens remained open today as workers listened to our plea. Our plan is to meet the state government officials and ministers and speak on interim wage hike, besides issues like non-payment of provident fund and gratuity to tea workers by many tea gardens.”
MEANWHILE FROM BELOW THE PLAINS OF DARJEELING
Spoiler Cong must pay: Trinamul
Malda, June 7: Trinamul Congress general secretary and Union minister of state for shipping Mukul Roy today came down heavily on the Congress, accusing it of spoiling the alliance before the civic elections. He said it was now up to the Malda Congress to decide how it would form the board for the Englishbazar municipality that had thrown up a fractured verdict.
Earlier, Trinamul had asked for the chairperson’s post in exchange for its support to the Congress to form the civic board.
Roy, who met his party workers here during the day, told reporters that Trinamul would take no initiative on its own to form the board in Englishbazar. “It is the responsibility of those who had belied the hopes and aspirations of the people by refusing to go for an alliance with Trinamul,” Roy said.
Of the 25 wards in Englishbazar, the Congress has bagged 10, Trinamul four and the BJP three, while the Left Front has won in eight seats.
Roy said Trinamul had established its presence in Englishbazar in Malda, a traditional Congress bastion, by winning four seats.
Flanked by district Trinamul leaders and the newly elected councillors, Roy told newspersons that the decision to help form the board, would be taken at the state level.
“Our stand remains unchanged. We wanted to come to seat adjustments at the state level before the elections. Now if the boards have to be formed with the Congress, the decision has to be taken at the state level,” the Trinamul general secretary said.
Roy said of the 81 municipalities across the state where the elections were held, Trinamul councillors would hold the chairpersons’ posts in 50 of them.
AND IN THE EAST BELOW DARJEELING
Dissidence cloud on civic post
Cooch Behar, June 7: A newly elected Trinamul Congress councillor has dissented the selection of the Congress’s Biren Kundu as the chairperson of the Cooch Behar municipality for the fourth consecutive term, creating an uncertainty in the formation of the civic board.
The Congress has sent an official request to the district Trinamul to join it to form the board. In the elections, the Congress has bagged eight, Trinamul three and the Left Front nine of the 20-ward civic body.
Trinamul district leader and a state general secretary of the party Abdul Jalil Ahmed said the Congress’s letter had been forwarded to the state leadership in Calcutta. “We are waiting for instructions.”
Party insiders said one of the three Trinamul councillors, Ellora Singh, had been opposed to Kundu, who is the district Congress president, for the top post since her husband Bhusan Singh, while heading the Seva Dal in Cooch Behar, had fallen out with him. The councillor has now objected to Kundu’s re-selection to the post. Ellora refused comment.
Kundu also did not react on the Trinamul councillor’s stance. “We have sent them (Trinamul Congress) a letter asking them to join us in forming the board and it is for them to decide,” he said.
The dissidence has made the Left Front smell a chance of capturing the board. “We are the single largest coalition with nine wards and we have every right to stake claim to form the board,” said Dipak Sarkar, the Forward Bloc MLA from Cooch Behar North.
In Dinhata, although the front will face no problem in forming the board, the question of who will be the chairperson looms large. The front has bagged 13 of the 15 wards in Dinhata, the only municipality in the state-run by the Bloc.
Outgoing chairperson of the Bloc Jagadish Ghosh was not given a ticket this time. The names of Ratan Adhikary and Chandan Ghosh are doing the rounds for the post. Sources in the Bloc said Adhikary, the headmaster of Dinhata High School and close to district secretary Udayan Guha, has an advantage over Ghosh. “However, Ghosh has been a councillor for four terms running and he too is very much in the fray,” a source said.
Guha refused comment.