POLL-SNIPPETS: Tea industry holds key in North Bengal polls

Ailing tea industry, closed gardens, discontent over socio-economic conditions and stagnant wages of plantation workers could emerge as key issues for both the TMC and the BJP in the upcoming polls in four Lok Sabha seats in the northern part of West Bengal.

POLL-SNIPPETS: Tea industry holds key in North Bengal polls
Ailing tea industry, closed gardens, discontent over socio-economic conditions and stagnant wages of plantation workers could emerge as key issues for both the TMC and the BJP in the upcoming polls in four Lok Sabha seats in the northern part of West Bengal.
In the run-up to the general elections, knives are out among political parties and a cacophony of promises reverberate through 300-odd tea gardens spread across Darjeeling, Dooars and Terai regions. Though tea plantations are touted as India's second-largest employer, the plight of the estate workers whose votes are crucial for all parties is a major poll plank.
The sector is plagued by the twin blows of rising production costs and lower price realisation at the auctions. This might have thrown the planters' business and livelihood of 4.5 lakh tea garden workers into jeopardy, but political parties get an opportunity to woo them with promises.
"The workers will vote against the negligence that they have been enduring. Neither the Centre's BJP nor the TMC government has helped them get rid of their distress with dwindling ration system and deteriorating medical facilities," Convenor of Joint Forum of Trade Unions and CITU's general secretary (tea industry) Zia-Ul-Alam said.
On the other hand, Mani Kumar Darnal, leader of INTUC in the Dooars region of North Bengal, said closed gardens are "not reopening, while huge defaults in making statutory payments like PF and gratuity created resentment among workers.
According to the planters' body Tea Association of India (TAI) estimates, there are nearly 12 closed gardens in north Bengal.
The BJP wrested Alipurduars, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar Lok Sabha seats from the TMC in the 2019 elections and retained the Darjeeling seat.
With production levels crossing more than 1350 million kilograms per annum in the country, stagnant growth in domestic consumption coupled with dwindling export markets is causing consternation among tea planters and workers alike, who are seeking interventions from the central and state governments.
Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers Associations president Bijoy Gopal Chakraborty said financial assistance under the tea development and promotion scheme increased by 82 per cent from Rs 290.81 crore to Rs 528.97 crore for 2024-24 and 2025-26 financial years but the industry needs "concerted government interventions" to overcome the sluggish phase.
After the TMC's poll debacle in the tea-growing region and North Bengal as a whole in 2019, the party sought to regain lost ground by working on issues related to land rights and the livelihoods of workers which did well for the ruling party in the 2021 assembly polls, say political analysts, adding that compared to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the TMC is likely to fare better this time.
Under strong Modi govt, terrorists killed on their own turf: PM
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said the "weak" Congress governments in the past failed to strengthen border infrastructure while under the "strong" BJP-led government, security forces were eliminating terrorists on their own turf.
Addressing an election rally at Rishikesh (Uttarakhand), Modi said the echoes of 'Phir Ek Baar Modi Sarkar' were being heard across the country as people have seen the benefits of having a stable government.
"Enemies took advantage and terrorism spread whenever there were weak and unstable governments in the country. But under a strong Modi government, our forces are killing terrorists on their own turf," the prime minister said.
"A strong BJP government dared to abrogate Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir after seven decades, make a law against triple talaq, give reservation to women in legislatures, and implement one rank, one pension," he said, adding that the "weak" Congress governments in the past could not strengthen the border infrastructure. Now, roads and tunnels are being built along the borders, Modi said.
The prime minister said he stopped the corrupt from looting the country and their anger against him was at its height. He asked the people of Uttarakhand to give a befitting reply to the Congress for talking about eliminating "Shakti" which is symbolised by the revered goddesses of Uttarakhand -- Maa Dhari Devi and Jwalpa Devi.
Will not accept CAA, NRC, Uniform Civil Code: Mamata
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday said she will not allow implementation of the CAA, NRC and the Uniform Civil Code in the state.
Addressing a gathering in Kolkata on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr, she claimed that some people will try to "engineer riots" during elections and urged those who participated in the programme "not to fall prey to the plot". Eid-ul-Fitr marks the culmination of the fasting month of Ramzan.
"We will not accept the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, National Register of Citizens and Uniform Civil Code. We will not accept any forcible implementation of these. I do not know how to hate people. I do not deliver hate speeches. I want everybody to live like brothers, in peace and harmony. If we will live unitedly, nobody will be able to cause harm to us. Do not let anybody break this unity," Banerjee told a gathering at the Red Road.
"Till I am alive, nobody will be able to cause harm to you. I will keep fighting them. I have learnt from you people not fearing death, but it's the other way round," she said. "... there will be people who will be trying to engineer riots in the name of religion. You keep your cool and we will not let them succeed in initiating riots here," Banerjee said.
In an apparent reference to the BJP, Banerjee alleged that with the elections closing in, the central government agencies are being "used" to scare the people, mainly the opposition leaders.
TMC national general secretary and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee accompanied her at the Eid meet.
Why are country's borders shrinking, Akhilesh questions BJP
In a strident criticism of the BJP-led central government, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav on Thursday wondered why the country's borders were shrinking and how free was its press.
Yadav, who attended the special prayers at Aishbagh Eidgah in Lucknow on Eid-ul-Fitr and greeted people on the occasion, said, "People are noticing that our country that was once developing, what is the state of law and order here now, what is our unemployment level, how free our press is, where are we standing on the parameters of health and poverty index? Why are our borders shrinking?"
"People are going to vote on these issues and they have decided to bring a change," the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister said after initially declining to make any political comments "at the time of festivities".
His attack came hours after the Congress targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his "ineffective and feeble" response to China for its border transgressions, and demanded that he apologise to 140 crore Indians for his June 2020 statement that no one has entered India nor has anyone occupied any post.
Cong showing same mindset as Sangh Parivar, BJP; hence silent on CAA: CPI(M)
The ruling CPI(M) in Kerala on Thursday once again accused its INDIA bloc ally Congress of being silent on CAA and alleged that the grand old party was showing the same mindset as the BJP and the Sangh Parivar.
The accusation was levelled by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan who also alleged that the grand old party's Kerala unit, which initially joined the Left front to oppose the CAA, withdrew from the same on the directions of its national leadership. He made the statements during a LDF election meeting at Attingal (Thiruvananthapuram) from where CPI(M) candidate V Joy is contesting in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Addressing the gathering, Vijayan reiterated his allegations that the Congress and Rahul Gandhi were silent on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). He also said that the Congress in its poll manifesto has not said anything about the CAA. Vijayan said that many countries, including the USA, have opposed and criticised the CAA, but the Congress has been unable to take such a stand or oppose the Sangh Parivar agenda of the BJP.
The Marxist veteran further alleged that the Congress opposes actions of the Enforcement Directorate (ED), Income Tax Department and other Central agencies only when they are against its own leaders.
"If the action is against leaders of other parties, it remains silent," he said and cited the examples of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and CPI(M) leader Thomas Isaac.
Vijayan alleged that the ED was able to take action against Kejriwal as Congress had lodged a police complaint against him regarding the liquor policy.
TDP not to contest LS polls in Telangana
Telugu Desam Party has decided not to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in Telangana, and the beleaguered party is yet to take a call on whom to support in the state, though it is part of the NDA in the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.
TDP spokesperson Jyothsna Tirunagari, however, said the TDP will resume its political innings by contesting the local body polls, expected to be held in June or July this year.
"Though we are part of the NDA, we are not contesting the Lok Sabha polls in Telangana. The decision on whom to support in the upcoming polls in Telangana will be taken by the party's senior leadership. As of now, there is no instruction on that," she said.
The political journey of the TDP has been passing through rough weather for the past few years, and the situation worsened after TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu was arrested by Andhra Pradesh police in a graft case. Following his arrest, the party decided not to contest the assembly polls in Telangana held on November 30 last year, prompting its state president, Ksanai Gnaneswar, to desert TDP and join former Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao-led Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) before the polls.
Since then, the party in Telangana has become headless and has been fraught with the desertions of several leaders and cadres. The TDP, which managed to win two seats in the 2018 Assembly polls in Telangana, polled 3.51 per cent of votes. It had a pre-poll pact with Congress and the CPI then.