Trinamul springs Barla surprise – Party in zilla parishad tie-up with JMM, confuses ally Adivasi Vikas Parishad

The Telegraph

June 9: Trinamul leaders in the Dooars today said they had held successful talks with John Barla on a pre-poll alliance for zilla parishad seats, confounding the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad with which the ruling party entered into a tie-up recently.

On June 4, leaders of Trinamul and the Parishad, which is staunchly opposed to Barla, announced that they would share seats in the gram panchayats and panchayat samitis. For the zilla parishad seats, there had been no understanding between the Parishad and Trinamul.

According to a Trinamul leader in Malbazar, the ruling party had decided to field two of Barla’s associates in the Jalpaiguri zilla parishad which has 37 seats.Trinamul said it wanted Barla in the alliance as it did not want the tribal votes to split.

Of the 13 blocks in Jalpaiguri, seven are in the Dooars, where the Parishad has a strong base because of the high tribal population and the Parishad’s presence in unions in almost all the tea gardens.

Around 40 per cent of the 2,346 gram panchayat seats in Jalpaiguri fall in the Dooars. A similar percentage of the 422 panchayat samiti seats are also in the Dooars.

The other six blocks in Jalpaiguri district do not have much of a tribal presence, therefore the Parishad’s focus is concentrated in the seven blocks of the Dooars.

Trinamul’s larger battle is to keep the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha out of the Dooars and Terai, which the hill party wants included in its proposed Gorkhaland state.

“We joined hands with the Parishad for gram panchayat and the panchayat samiti seats. In each seat, the support base of the Parishad and Trinamul has been assessed by local leaders of both sides and the candidate has been selected on the basis of this strength,” said Prabir Chakraborty, a member of the north Bengal core committee of Trinamul and party’s observer in the Malbazar subdivision of Jalpaiguri.

Chakraborty added: “However, in the zilla parishad, it has been decided that Trinamul will field its candidates in all 37 seats. These candidates would be supported by John Barla and (his party) the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.”

He said: “Talks have been held with Barla and other leaders on the proposal and they have assented.”

A Trinamul source said Binod Kuzur and Binod Tigga, both associates of Barla, would be fielded as Trinamul candidates in the Nagrakata and Banarhat zilla parishad seats.

The Parishad, though miffed, is unsure how it should act. If it goes with Trinamul, it will lose face among its supporters because the outfit has always said it would have no truck with Barla, who had rebelled against the Parishad and moved out. Also, Barla has an understanding with the Morcha for the rural polls, and the Parishad is opposed to the Morcha’s Gorkhaland demand.

But withdrawing its candidates when just two days are left for the nomination phase to end may also not help the Parishad. The outfit would find it difficult to put up Independent candidates in all the seats now.

“We have our compulsions about maintaining a distance from Barla and the Morcha for their agenda of Gorkhaland and inclusion of Dooars and Terai in it…. On the basis of discussions with Trinamul leaders, we have put up candidates in the panchayat samitis and gram panchayats,” said Rajesh Lakra, the general secretary of the north Bengal regional unit of the Parishad.

“We have no idea on what to do now,” he said.

Barla, disappointed by the tie-up between the Parishad and Trinamul, had asserted that he would campaign against Trinamul.

“This left Trinamul concerned about division in the tribal vote. The party in a last-ditch attempt convinced Barla for the zilla parishad alliance. However, the equations are not very clear as both the Parishad and the Morcha, are not ready to go by this alliance,” a source in the Dooars said.

Barla said today: “We are not concerned about the other allies of Trinamul. As only two days are left for submission of nominations (the vote in Jalpaiguri is on July 9), we are simply focusing on filing of nominations by our candidates in all three tiers. There had been an alliance with Trinamul but some of our leaders are insisting on fielding candidates under the JMM banner in the zilla parishad. Talks are going on with Trinamul leaders and we feel, it would not pose any hindrance to the alliance.”

Asked about the Morcha tie-up, he said: “We would soon sit and talk to them. Candidates of Morcha-JMM alliance have already filed nominations in two lower tiers of the panchayat.”

Morcha leaders in the Dooars said they had no information about the Barla-Trinamul alliance.

“It is unlikely that Barla or JMM would make such a tie-up when they are in alliance with us. Our party has made elaborate plans for campaign and the party president himself (Bimal Gurung) would participate in it across Dooars,” said Madhukar Thapa, a central committee member of the Morcha from the Dooars, said.

“We want to make it clear we have no alliance with Trinamul,” he said.

Gautam Deb, the north Bengal development minister, said Trinamul was fast emerging as the principal party in Dooars. “We definitely want the support of all tribal groups. On the other hand, tribal organisations and parties in the Dooars have realised that they need to have an alliance with Trinamul for better results in panchayat polls.”

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