By Pradipta Tapadar
Jalpaiguri (WB), Feb 7 (PTI) Jalpaiguri district in north Bengal, once the hotbed of naxals, is witnessing inroads by BJP riding on the people’s discontent over unemployment and closure of various tea gardens in the district.
The district, nestled near the Darjeeling hills and borders Bangladesh, is a mere 68 km from Naxalbari – the cradle of the ultra Left movement of the ’60s and the ’70s.
Ironically the rampant poverty of the area and the labour problems of the tea gardens dotting the district, which had once made it the fertile ground for the naxals, has led the scales to tilt in favour of the BJP now.
Tea gardens in the district, which includes the famed Dooars area, have either closed or are on the verge of closure due to labour problems. The tourism industry, which is its other main source of income, too has not grown due to lack of infrastructure.
After the failure of the naxal movement in the early seventies, the people of the district had supported the CPI(M)-led Left Front since 1977. The Left tried to provide relief to the agricultural workers of the area through its Operation Barga, which gave the right over the produce to the tiller.
But the LF’s militant trade union activities in the tea gardens hit them hard, made them suffer huge losses and close production.
After TMC came to power in 2011 things did not change much, except some improvement in rural infrastructure via the MGNREGA.
Riding on the peoples’ discontent over the lack of development, BJP on the other hand made steady inroads in the district since 2014 along with Coochbehar, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur and Alipurduar district.
The Jalpaiguri Lok Sabha seat, which is presently held by TMC, is among the 28 out of the 42 in the state that the saffron party has earmarked in the region.
The BJP is out too woo the voters and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who last week virtually kicked off his campaign in the state for the coming Lok Sabha election, will hold a meeting here and inaugurate the long-awaited circuit bench of Calcutta High Court on Friday.
In the 2014 general election BJP had secured the third position in the constituency by securing more than 17 percent of the votes polled.
In the 2018 panchayat polls, it emerged second by outsmarting the Left and the Congress and winning a seat in the zilla parishad and several others at the gram panchayat and gram sabha levels.
The saffron party has in the last few months also won some school and cooperative committee elections in the district increasing its ambit and throwing a challenge to the ruling Trinamool Congress.
“The victory may have been small in size but it was significant and proved how BJP has made inroads while TMC is busy poaching on Left and congress leaders in the district,” said a local RSP leader who did not wish to be named.
RSP is an ally of the CPI(M)-led Left Front and had a strong organisational base in the district till 2011.
According to the state BJP, some of the factors that worked are the government’s failure to develop tea and tourism industries and secondly the presence of refugees from Bangladesh.
This district, apart from North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas and Nadia in South Bengal, is home to a huge number of Bangladeshi refugees.
According to state BJP president Dilip Ghosh, the Citizenship Bill which enables Hindu refugees from Bangladesh citizenship in India would be a major poll plank of the party in next Lok Sabha polls.
“Neither the Left nor the TMC has done anything for the refugees. They have only tried to use them as their vote bank. BJP has taken the concrete step for the benefit of the refugees,” he told PTI.
The TMC district leadership, however, feels that the growth of BJP is due to the failure of CPI(M) and Congress to retain its opposition space in the district.
“BJP is gaining ground as CPI(M) and Congress have ceased to exist in the district. The three parties have a tacit understanding. But nowhere they are even close to challenging Trinamool’s supremacy in the region,” TMC leader from the region Sourav Chakraborty said.
According to the district TMC leaders who did not wish to be named, infighting in the party has been one of the major reasons behind BJP gaining ground in the district.
The locals feel that the people are disillusioned with TMC as they did nothing for generating employment in the district.
“Neither the Left Front nor the TMC government did anything for the development of this district. As a result youngsters have to either leave their homes after graduation or get into small time jobs. There is no future for them as two of our biggest industries are suffering badly,” said Bikash Pal, a businessman in the bustling Jalpaiguri town.
Jalpaiguri – Hotbed of Naxals to BJP stronghold
By Pradipta Tapadar