Bengal Panchayat Polls: Alipurduar to Resist TMC Rule
Development stands still in West Bengal’s Alipurduar district, carved out of Jalpaiguri on June 25, 2014, with Alipurduar-I, Alipurduar-II, Falakata, Kalchini, Kumargram and Madarihat-Birpara blocks. More than 80% of the district is inhabited by scheduled castes and tribes.
The BJP won all the five seats in the district, which once played a prominent role in the left-wing labour movement and was long held by the Left, in the 2021 Assembly election. The only MP from the district also belongs to the BJP.
In the 2018 Panchayat election, the ruling TMC won 17 Zilla Parishad seats in Alipurduar with unprecedented violence reported during nominations, polling and counting.
On May 17, 2018, then-BJP MP Babul Supriya sarcastically tweeted in Bengali: “After watching the entire process of Panchayat election 2018, I felt ‘development’ on the streets before the submission of nominations, on polling and counting and at the counting centres. It simply means democracy doesn’t exist in West Bengal.”
Alipurduar has 18 Zilla Parishad, 189 Panchayat Samiti and 1,252 Gram Panchayat seats.
The Left won 23 Gram Panchayat seats (in Kumaragram, 3 in Alipurduar-1, 5 in Alipurduar-2, 10 in Falakata and 3 in Kalchini) and 1 Panchayat Samiti seat (Falakata) but drew a blank on Zilla Parishads. Several independent candidates had supported the Left.
According to Alipurduar CPI(M) district secretary Kishore Das, booth-level workers have already met though the election date hasn’t been announced.
“We could field candidates on more than 1,000 seats except for Kalchini and Madarihat blocks, where we have always been weak. Two meetings have already been held with the possible candidates in the presence of Mohammed Salim [state CPI(M) secretary],” he said adding that “people are determined to resist this time”.
District CITU president and labour leader Bidyut Gun said that the general public had a role in the Panchayat during the Left Front era unlike under the TMC rule.
“The Panchayat has changed under the Trinamool with no participation of the general public. Now, the Panchayat is controlled by some contractors with no work being done and corruption plagues housing schemes,” Gun said.
The Panchayat owes wages for 100 days of work to villagers with some not paid for seven-eight months. The total amount of dues will exceed Rs 75 crore if pending wages aren’t paid.
People are angry. “They feel that the previous Panchayat was much better. We are trying to unite people and build a movement. People’s interest is also increasing,” he added.
Comparing the Left Front’s ear to the TMC rule, Gun said, “The district has a high literacy rate due to the Left Front’s push to education using Panchayats. Girls were eager to attend schools and several educated children got jobs. Now, several children are daily wagers and migrate to other states for employment. Child marriages have increased significantly. As a result, people are angry.”
District CITU secretary Bikash Mahali rued the “lack” of development. “The Panchayat office does nothing. The old list of Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana Gramin had the names of four-five members of families of TMC workers. Those who needed houses never got them.”
Regarding the 2018 Panchayat election, Mahali alleged, “I was attacked at the BDO office. Goons hired by the Trinamool didn’t allow voters to enter booths. The TMC has turned the Panchayat into a business.”
This time, however, the “electorate will resist”. “The Trinamool is a bit panicked sensing that it will not be able to take over everything so easily,” Mahali said.
Jiban Sarkar, a long-time Leftist activist in East Kanthalbari (Alipurduar-I), said that people are “leaning towards the Left”. “We are trying to unite people. 2023 will not be a repetition of 2018, when the Trinamool looted the election. The results are bound to be different this time.”
In 1978, the Left Front’s first chairman Promode Dasgupta said before the Panchayat election, “It is a struggle for establishing the rights of poor peasants, agricultural labourers, village craftsmen, etc. against the vested interests and exploiting classes in villages.”
The leftist Panchayat came to power with the aim of breaking the unholy nexus against the poor. Forty-five years later, people want to build a panchayat of their own with the same aim.
Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.