West Bengal: Palpable Interest in June 26 GTA Elections, CPIM Vows to Raise People's Issues
Ambootia/Rohini: "We are seriously fighting the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) elections. Our demand for land rights, facilities for tea workers like women's toilets and minimum wages are generating interest among the tea workers who comprise nearly 80% of the voters in my area," said a visibly jubilant Anima Khawas, President of the CITU unit of Rohini tea estate.
CITU forms the dominant tea union in the Rohini area. Influenced by the fight led by the joint forum of tea workers, a faction of the Gorkha National Liberation Front-led (GNLF) tea workers' union is also supporting the CPI(M) candidates in the tea garden areas in the hills.
The West Bengal government had recently announced the GTA elections, to be held on June 26. Many major political parties, such as BJP, and GNLF, are not contesting the elections. Anil Thapa's Gorkha Prajatantrik Dal (GPD) and Ajar Edwards' Humro Party have fielded candidates.
CPI(M) has put up candidates in 12 out of 45 seats that will go to elections. In three seats, they are supporting independent candidates. The last election in 2012 was a no-contest election, where no other party except the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) was allowed to contest in the polls.
"In these elections, we are highlighting the issues of people. There are 18,139 voters in my constituency. We are raising the issues of land rights, livelihood problems and rampant migration" said Sachin Khati, CPI(M) Candidate for Ambootia and a prominent youth leader of Darjeeling district who is also a central committee member of DYFI. Khati is also the president of the Rohini Land Rights Committee.
"We have lived in this area for the last 150 years, but still haven't been given patta for the land meant for refugees. We want regularisation of our present addresses," he said.
Addressing the issue of migration to other regions for employment opportunities, Khati highlighted how 200 out of 250 young people in his constituency have migrated to other states to work as unskilled workers.
"No other party nor the candidates like Kalpana Pradhan of GPD or Purna Bahadur Tamang of Humro party are speaking about these issues. The issue of development has come at the forefront in these elections as the area has been hampered by corruption," Khati said.
The issue of poverty is also critical, especially in the context of low wages in the tea estates which lead to male members of families migrating for work.
"Money meant for development has been siphoned through corruption. One can see how bad the condition of roads is in the hills. Funds have been misused to this extent that there is a scarcity of safe drinking water," Khati further said.
The elder voters seem nostalgic about earlier times when CPI(M) used to win Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in the region. The Gorkhaland separatist movement changed that, beginning in 1986. Led the Subhash Ghisingh, the movement saw the killings of hundreds of CPI(M) workers in the hills.
The violent movement virtually wiped the CPI(M) from the hills where once the slogan was, "Jab Tak Teesta Rangeet Bahega Tab Tak Pahar me Lal Jhanda Uccha Rahega (so long the river Teesta will flow, the red flag will fly fluttering high in the hills."
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