Saugata Roy, IE, Apr 17, 2016, Dooars: The fascinating “doors to Bhutan” on the eastern flank of the Teesta – Dooars – belies the peace it puts on. A new kind of social engineering is under way in this region, far removed from mainstream ‘jote’ politics or its adversary.
People here are not only known by the political banners – red, green or saffron – they hold. Instead, identities – Lama, Subba, Khalko, Minj – gain primacy over politics posing a riddle to mainstream candidates.
With the tea gardens becoming sick in Dooars, life doesn’t revolve around wages only. On the contrary, ailing tea gardens have pushed many of them to all kinds of odd jobs – from stone crushing to road repair.
Those among the second generation, who have made it to schools and colleges and later found a white collar job outside the gardens, have come out of the influence of Left trade unions that held sway for decades.
The homogenous plantation labourer clan is thus falling apart. The process began more than a decade ago in 2003 when angry plantation workers set ablaze the house of a Citu leader Tarakeswar Lohar in Dalgaon Tea Estate. Since then, people in this region are in search of their own representatives instead of any via media. They now want a share in the power structure.
The social engineering becomes evident from the multiple candidates in the Kalchini assembly seat. Bishal Lama, known to be a Gorkha Janmukti Morcha man, is fighting on a BJP ticket. Lama enjoys the support of John Barla, the adivasi leader who heads the breakaway faction of the Adivasi Vikash Parishad. The other adivasi faction throws its weight behind independent candidate Atul Subba. Trinamool candidate Wilson Champramari is a Bodo. The Left, on the other hand, stands divided here. Philip Khalko is RSP candidate while CPM backs independent Biswajit Minj.
A closer look into the candidate profile throws up a divide between the 36 tribal entities under two broad categories. One of them is ostroloid, including tribals who migrated from the Chhotonagpur Plateau or Madhya Pradesh. Oraon, Tigga, Kujur, Lakhra, Minj are from this clan. Others, the Mech (Bodo), Rava, Toto, Tamang, Limbu come under mongoloid clan. The mongoloids claim themselves to be the “sons of the soil” and have a ready connect with settlers along the Sankosh river extending up to Assam’s Nagaon.
The mongoloids have come along with the Kamtapur People’s Party close to Bimal Gurung’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and lent support to BJP with a bigger aim. Expecting a surge in BJP vote share in Assam, they want to use the BJP clout to extend the Gorkha Territorial Administration, now confined to three Hill subdivisions, down to the foothills. The ostroloids are in general opposed to this. They want an adivasi autonomous council for the entire Dooars. This section is behind Mamata Banerjee’s party even if Trinamool candidate Wilson Champramari is a Bodo. The new Muslim settlers from Bangladesh are also backing Trinamool. The old Bengali settlements are left out in this new social paradigm. Bengalis, mainly babus, are scared with the emerging identity equations. Retired settlement officer Asit Das fears that the simmering tension may soon lead to a bloody turf war between communities. Trinamool leader from Kalchini Bablu Majumdar refuses to acknowledge the identity divide. “Our party enjoys the support of all the communities. BJP doesn’t have a single gram panchayat member here. The party is using GJM as a crutch to gain a foothold in this seat,” said Majumdar.
The Saradha scam and the Narada tapes are no issue in Kalchini. Instead, sandalwood smuggling haunts people here. Champramari is not immune to this controversy. This is the reason why PM Narendra Modi made a reference to this during his campaign at Matigara. BJP may not have a gram panchayat member here, but the Eklavya schools run by the party in the Dooars have a social base. So have the BJP-run Banabasi Samitis among a section of poor adivasis.