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Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad Polls: Left Front Adopts ‘Brechtian Style’ Campaign of Dialogue with People

The June 26 polls are building up as a triangular battle, with TMC and BJP playing ‘double engine’ and ‘language’ cards, respectively.
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Siliguri:  Campaign is intensifying for three-tier elections to the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad (SMP) on June 26, with a clear triangular fight building up between the Left Front, Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). SMP is a rural body that came into existence in 1989 after the Darjeeling Zila Parishad was dissolved and the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council was formed.

Rueing the decimation of panchayat power, Anil Burman, 75, a rajbonghshi (a caste) elder, said: "In earlier times, the village government was our mainstay. Now, during the present government, it has been decimated and bureaucrats are controlling new local development projects instead of panchayats (Duare Sarkar is one such project) ". He said they feel “fearful” while talking with bureaucrats.

Burman was taking part in an informal mohalla meeting being held by senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Ashok Bhattacharya as part of the Left Front’s campaign for the upcoming SMP elections.

Later, speaking with NewsClick, Bhattacharya said the Left Front was “experimenting” with a Brechtian style election campaign of a dialogue with people (Bertolt Brecht was an eminent German playwright whose plays are known for their anti-fascist resistance to Hitler’s Nazi regime).

 “In this election, we are experimenting on the style of participatory leadership whereby, like Brecht’s theatrical style, we are speaking in a manner so that our speeches are like a dialogue between voters and the candidates and leaders,” he said.

 “We have heard of participatory democracy, which was first introduced in the country by Jyoti Basu (former West Bengal chief minister) in the form of panchayat elections. Now, we are embarking on “participatory leadership” whereby our speeches are not monologues but consist of interaction with our target audience. So far, there has been a good response to this style of speeches, as wherever we are going, people are speaking up and giving us feedback during our speeches. We are encouraging this dialogue process,” Bhattacharya said.

The SMP elections are happening amid a demand for separate statehood for North Bengal by a section of local BJP leaders who are also fanning  racial sentiments, like seeking separate language status for rajbongshi as different from Bengali language. 

Satraps like Bimal Gurung (among the founders of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha) in the (Gorkhaland  Territorial Administration ) GTA area and  Ananta Maharaj  (a leader of the Greater Cooch Behar People's Association ) in the rajbongshi heartland,  are playing a dual role in the GTA and SMP elections, say sources in the Left Front, which alleged that both were on paper with TMC while also siding with BJP to achieve their set of demands .

Gurung started a fast to include new 397 Gorkha-dominated mouzas within GTA before conducting any elections, which has been negated by the state government . Talking to NewsClick,  Saman Pathak  and Jibesh  Sarkar, senior CPI(M) leaders, said the GTA experiment has been a failure due to lack of transparency during the body ‘s formation stage . “We had said during the time of its formation (in 2012) that the GTA experiment wont’ be successful. Now, major signatories to the accord, such as Bimal Gurung, are also saying so,” they said.

On Thursday, NewsClick visited the Atharokhai Panchayat area from where Mani Thapa , former sabhadhipati  of SMP is contesting on a CPI(M) ticket .  It may be recalled that after the formation of the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad in 1994, the Left Front has never lost the elections. There are a sizable number of Nepali and rajbongshi votes, who in the last two elections – Lok Sabha and Assembly -- had sided with BJP.

The nearby municipal corporation was wrested by TMC in the last municipal election held. In such a situation, the Left Front, led by CPI(M),  is fighting to keep its vote intact  in the SMP elections .In the Atharokhai area, the gram panchayat was won by CPI(M) last time in 2016. However, after 2.5 years of functioning, it was wrested away by force by TMC who “bought over” key members of the Gram Panchayat, the CPI(M) alleged. 

CPI(M) sources said last year,  the night before a team of auditors was supposed to visit the Atharokhai Gram Panchayat office, there was a burglary in the office and the computer hard disc containing the expenses made by GP was removed . “These issues of corruption are being raised by CPI(M) in its campaign in the gram panchayat polls,” the sources said.

While CPI(M)’s campaign is  focusing on  racial unity, BJP’ s campaign is highlighting  the  sentiments of the ranjbongshi and Nepali people .

“We have been able to open multiple RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) shakhas in the area,” Utpal Biswas, a middle-level karyakarta of BJP, told Newsclick . “All the sentiments of rajbanshi and Nepali  people and their language as their pride,  were  being highlighted by our village  shakha members prior to the election,” he added.

TMC leader Alok Chakraborty said taking Duare Sarkar  (a scheme of governance by Mamata Banerjee government )  to the people is due to Mamata Banerjee‘s “charisma”.   TMC  is also  talking of double engine here, as in the state there is Mamata  Banerjee government and if winning SMP  elections would lead to “stream lining  all developmental  works under one roof,” claimed Chakraborty  a senior functionary and Chairman of  Darjeeling District TMC.

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