Seeking change in Assam's cuppa

Seeking change in Assam's cuppa

Seeking change in Assam's cuppa

Padmini Tanti, 43, is busy picking tea leaves from a lush green garden at Duklingia Tea Estate in Jorhat district, one of the best producing tea gardens of the world famous Gardines—who market Assam’s liquor tea.

Her Sardar (field supervisor in tea estate) Prafulla Karmakar is a worried man since half of his work force did not turn up and instead went to attend Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s rally in Amguri of neighbouring Sibasagar district on Wednesday.

For decades, the tea garden workers in Assam have been one of the committed vote bank of the ruling Congress. However, the base eroded in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when the BJP’s two candidates Kamakhya Prasad Tasa and Rameshwar Teli from the tea garden workers community, known as tea tribes in Assam won both the –Jorhat and Dibrugarh seat. The victory signaled an entry of the saffron party in Assam’s tea party.

“All my life I have voted for the Congress and I must say that the Congress did some work for the tea tribe community in Assam. But they always kept us hanging on our core demand of giving a scheduled tribe state to us. Moreover, at grassroots level there is huge corruption. Congress grassroots leaders only work for their family memebers and relatives. Thus I did not go for Sonia Gandhi’s rally, had it been Modi I would have gone” Padmini said.

Padmini is among lakhs of tea tribe voters who make about 35% of the total voters in Assam and have influence in as many as 40 Assembly segments of the 126 Assembly seats in the state Legislative Assembly.

“There was a time when in the gardens it was only the Congress which dominated. Now the BJP and other parties have made serious inroads. In our estimation across Assam the votes of the tea tribe would get divided between the Congress and BJP” Prafulla explained. 

A strong discontent had been brewing in the tea gardens of Assam among the garden workers over their long-standing demand for tribal status, a promise the Congress could not keep. “The BJP has used this as a bait to create a mood for change in the tea gardens. We should have been given the status long back and every election for votes political parties prick it up and later forget. We are not sure if the BJP will also be opportunist on this” said Dipak Bhumij, a tea garden leader from Mariani.

Across the country the Adivasis are considered as Scheduled Tribe (ST) but in Assam they are considered as Other Backward Classes or OBC.

The biggest face of Congress politics in the tea tribe belt—former Union minister Paban Singh Ghatowar is contesting after several years from his traditional Moran seat, and even in Moran he is up against a very stiff fight from the BJP.
DH News Service

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