Left Front-affiliated trade union leaders associated with tea plantations have alleged that a ‘tremendous repression’ is going on in every tea garden ever since the panchayat election notification was issued by the state election commission.
Left leaders are also apprehending some untoward and ‘very dangerous’ incidents that may occur during campaigning for the rural polls in the tea belt in the Dooars region.
Talking to this correspondent, CPI-M leader Zia ul Alam, who is the convener of the Joint Forum, a conglomeration of over 23 trade unions, said: “The ruling party is going to lose big time in the tea garden areas, and that is why they are using the police, and even returning officers in a bad manner.”
“The High Court has taken all this into account. It is evident that something foul is going on. They are committing foul because they fear they will lose in the polls,” Mr Alam said, adding, “This is correctly being apprehended, as tea workers have got nothing in the past seven years.”
“Whatever the tea workers got was promises. But under the carpet, employers in the industry have managed thousands of crores of rupees from ration component and interim wage settlement,” the trade union leader alleged. Notably, the traditional ration system was discontinued after February 2016.
“A tremendous repression is going on in every tea garden. Some sporadic and very dangerous incidents are likely coming up. But we say that elections come and go, but workers’ unity must remain, so that after June-July, the tea industry can have its rightful minimum wages,” Mr Alam told The Statesman.
On the other hand, senior vice-president of the Trinamul Congress Cha Mazdoor Union in Alipurduar, Bablu Mukherjee, said the Left trade union leaders are themselves struggling for existence.
“We had not expected such unfortunate crisis, as the Left was the last word in the tea belt earlier. Left supporters have joined the BJP to contest the rural polls. There is no Left leader left there. The existence of the Left is at stake,” he said.
“Trinamul candidates are contesting against the BJP at many places. Malangi Gram Panchayat, a red bastion in the Kalchini block, was completely under the control of the Left Front, but there is no presence of the Left there this year,” Mr Mukherjee said over phone on Wednesday.
He further claimed that the Trinamul Congress will perform better in the Madarihat Assembly segment, though the BJP candidate was elected there in the last Assembly elections. Notably, chief minister Mamata Banerjee had expressed unhappiness after the Trinamul could not win the seat there.
“The Trinamul Congress never used the police and other administrative machinery. There were no reports of violence in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts during the submission of nomination papers. We are not responsible if other political parties fail to get candidates to contest the polls,” Mr Mukherjee said.
“The Left should have showed its strength, but it has no organization right now. People realized that they got no facilities in the gardens during the Left regime. But now the state government has constructed roads in every tea garden and implemented many other projects,” Mr Mukherjee said, adding, “Results of the rural polls (for the party) in the tea belt will be better than the last rural elections.”
According to him, after Kanyashree, the government has started campaigning for Ruposhree Prokolpa. “Though we have not implemented it in the tea gardens now, people are happy with the scheme. Almost all tea garden workers will be eligible for Ruposhree, which provides a one-time financial assistance for young women to do something for their future,” he said.