As election nears, parties focus on tea gardens

Pluckers in a tea garden under Jorhat Lok Sabha constituency in Assam. Photo: Pankaj Bora, Golaghat.

 The problems confronting tea garden workers in Assam has once again become a point of focus for major political parties, as the fate of at least three of the 14 Lok Sabha seats hinge on their votes.

A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that only a chaiwala (like himself) can understand the problems of the tea garden workers, Congress on Sunday asked him why he failed to meet his 2014 promise to meet the demands of the tea garden workers: to hike their daily wage to Rs 350 and provide them with Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.

“While he failed to meet the promise in the past five years, he is making the same promise again before the election for votes,” senior Congress leader and former chief minister Tarun Gogoi said.

The Congress has increased the heat on the BJP, as candidates of the saffron party had won in the 2014 general polls in Dibrugarh, Jorhat and Sonitpur constituencies.

The opposition party, however, hopes that votes in the tea gardens would swing in their favour this time, as the demands of the tea garden workers remain unfulfilled, despite a promise by Modi in 2014

Sizeable constituents

Workers in over 800 big tea gardens, with nearly 30 lakh voters, are paid Rs 167 per day at present. Two BJP candidates in Dibrugarh and Sonitpur also belong to the tea garden community. 

Addressing a rally in Moran under Dibrugarh constituency, the prime minister talked about the BJP-led state government’s scheme to credit Rs 5,000 into the bank accounts of the garden workers, providing
Rs 12,000 to pregnant women, and giving families free rice and sugar.

Gogoi, however, said that BJP government was offering sops to buy votes. “Modi has cheated the tea garden workers whereas he calls himself a chaiwala,” Gogoi said.

Debjyoti Orang, a student leader from the tea garden community, said parties were talking about their issues only to woo the voters.

“We hear similar promises and offers before every election. But neither the saffron party nor the Congress were serious during their tenure in power when it comes to the ST status and wage hike. We don’t want free rice and sugar but the Schedule Tribe status and Rs 350 as daily wage so that the workers can live in dignity without falling prey to such promises before every elections,” he said.

Tea garden workers were brought from states like Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha by the British to grow tea in Assam.

But they have not been accorded ST status, although their forefathers or relatives enjoy the same in those states.

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