With this in mind, the ruling Left Front is going all out to garner the support of the tribals, who constitute a large percentage of the electorate in the region. Out of the 12 Assembly seats in Jalpaiguri district in Dooars region that boasts of lush green forests and tea gardens, the Nepalese-origin people and adivasis have an influential presence in at least 10 seats and a roughly good percentage in the other two segments.
Of the 12 seats in the region, Left Front had won 11 while the Congress got the Jalpaiguri seat in 2006 elections. However, Trinamool Congress had won the Rajganj seat in the 2009 by-poll defeating the Commuist Party of India-Marxist. But the polarisation of votes can change the equation and spring a few surprises this time around, the analysts said.
The adivasis, who are mainly tea garden workers, are mostly grouped under the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad, which is fighting the elections from six seats in the region under the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha banner. Two other organisations of the adivasis, namely Dooars Terai Adivasi Vikas Parishad and Progressive People's Party, have also come up in recent times, but with a lesser support base. Things have become more complicated with the GJM having announced support for TC-Congress combine in 12 seats in Jalpaiguri and adjoining Darjeeling districts.
While it is supporting the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Manoj Tigga at Madarihat and the PPP aspirant at Nagrakata in Dooars, it has its own candidate at Kalchini. The Trinamool s fighting against the GJM supported candidate Wilson Chapramari at Kalchini.
Gorkhaland comprising Darjeeling Hills, Siliguri in the foothills and the Terai Dooars region, Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad wants sixth schedule status for Dooars so that it has an autonomous regional council. Again, PPP, the smaller faction of the adivasis, is with the GJM on their statehood demand and has been rewarded with support in the Nagrakata seat. "We want the sixth schedule status for the Terai Dooars region for the welfare of the adivasis. We have nothing to do with the GJM demand for separate statehood," said ABAVP president John Barla.
"The Left Front government as also the Centre are responsible for the plight of the adivasis who till recently got little benefits of education, healthcare and other basic amenities," Barla said. "We wanted an alliance with the Congress in Dooars, but with the Trinamool putting up candidates in some seats, this did not work out and now we are fighting under the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha banner," he said.
Asked which mainstream party, they felt, was likely to be affected in this new equation, Barla said, "This will adversely affect the prospects of the Left Front."
The adivasis have been traditional supporters of the CPM-led Left Front which had a strong grip over the tea garden workers through trade unions. But the advent of the adivasi parties and their trade unions in the Dooars area has certainly become a cause of concern for the Left candidates. The CPI-M, however, denies any erosion of its support base in the tea gardens and said that the ABAVP is not a factor.
Claiming that the ABAVP does not have much support and that the adivasi populace was with the Left Front as before, CPI-M zonal secretary at Mal, Chanu Dey, said, "The main fight will be between the TC-Congress combine and CPI(M)-led Left Front."
The CPI-M heavyweight in North Bengal and cabinet minister Ashok Bhattacharya said, "This has certainly helped us and the public expression of support has come to our advantage." "For long we have been saying that the GJM has been carrying out its divisive activities with tacit support from the Trinamool Congress. Now it has come out in the open," Bhattacharya said. Asked about the prospects of the BJP, which had got a good percentage of votes in the region in the last Lok Sabha elections in 2009, Chanu Dey dismissed their challenge saying, "The BJP had got votes garnered by the GJM, which had supported BJP's Jaswant Singh's candidature from the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat. The BJP has little support of its own in this region."
"The GJM does not have the strength it had in the last Lok Sabha elections. The Nepalis are also not listening to the GJM dictats like they did earlier," Dey claimed.
GJM leader Roshan Giri, however, said that their support to the TC-Congress alliance has nothing to do with their statehood demand and is without any condition. "We only want the Left Front rule to end in the state," he said.
Hiramohan Oraon, Congress candidate from Mal (ST) constituency -- a sensitive area which has earlier seen clashes between the GJM supporters and adivasis as also the local Bengali populace, claimed that with the ABAVP putting up candidates, the TC-Congress alliance stands to gain. "Most of adivasi votes earlier went to CPI-M while we got some. So with the adivasi parties putting up their own candidates, it is the CPI-M which stands to lose more than us," Oraon said.
He claimed that the GJM's expression of support would also help the alliance. Swapan Saha, Jalpaiguri district committee member of the Trinamool, said the BJP had got a large number of votes in 2009 due to the GJM, which was supporting them now. "However, the question of the GJM support to BJP candidate at Madarihat has created some confusion," he admitted, adding that efforts were on to resolve such issues to ensure that all opposition votes come to TC-Congress combine.
The BJP leadership in the region, however, denies that it had got the votes in 2009 only because of the GJM support and claimed that it has its own support base. Some other issues have also cropped up due to delimitation with new seats like Dabgram-Phulbari coming up near Siliguri, where Trinamool has put up its North Bengal Core Committee leader Gautam Deb against CPI-M's Dilip Singh.
Again at Alipurduar, which is on the Assam border in the other side of the district, RSP has relocated its senior leader and Public Waters Department minister Kshiti Goswami at the cost of its local leader Nirmal Das creating disenchantment among a section of party workers at Alipurduar, party sources said.
The local Bengali populace also appears to be a divided lot. Hamidur, a rickshaw puller from Meteli in Nagrakata, says he wants paribartan (change) claiming that he resides in a slum and is a below poverty line card holder but gets only kerosene oil while rice, dal and other essentials supposed to be distributed are denied to him and others in his locality. Another rickshaw puller Rabi says that they have peace in the region since the Left Front came to power in 1977. "I have always voted for the CPI-M and if the opposition wins, rowdyism may make a comeback," he claimed.
Image: Supporters of Gorkhaland | Photograph: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters