Assam tea workers’ party to alter political equations


Guwahati : The political dynamics in Assam are likely to change with the formation of a new party by groups representing the tea garden workers’ community as plantation voters hold the key to winning elections in many parts of the state.

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To fight for their rights, several frontline tea garden community groups like the All Assam Adivasi Students’ Association (AAASA) and the All Assam Tea Tribe’s Students’ Association (AATTSA) have decided to float a political party ahead of the parliamentary elections.

“We want to have our own political party to make sure we are able to raise our political rights and work more vigorously for the overall socio-economic development of the community,” AATTSA general secretary Pallab Lochan Das told IANS.

The tea garden workers’ community, fighting to be accorded the status of a Scheduled Tribe which will give them reservation benefits in jobs and education, constitutes about six million of Assam’s 26 million population. Most of them work in the state’s 800-odd tea plantations.

The four million strong tea garden voters hold the key to winning any elections in about 32 of Assam’s 126 assembly constituencies.

“Candidates from the new political party that we are forming might contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in Assam. We are not ruling out that option,” Das said.

It is generally believed that the tea garden workers were traditionally supporters of the Congress party in Assam – an equation that is bound to change if the new party decides to contest the polls.

“More than anybody else, the new party to be formed by the tea community would adversely impact on the poll prospects of the Congress party,” said Bijoya Chakraborty, former central minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in Assam.

The ruling Congress party is, however, unfazed.

“I don’t think it is the right time to float a new party and even if they form a party, it would have no bearing on the elections,” said Bhagirath Karan, head of the tea cell of the Congress party.

But despite the optimism, there are fears that the new party, expected to be formed soon, would cut into the Congress vote bank.

During the 2006 assembly elections, a new party called the Asom United Democratic Front (AUDF), led by perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal, won 11 seats in their first outing.

The AUDF claims to espouse the cause of the minority Muslims in Assam that accounts for about 30 percent of the total population.

“The Congress is a party that solely depends on Muslim and tea garden community votes. If you analyse how the AUDF eroded the Muslim votes of the Congress party in 2006, one wonders about the consequences now as a result of the new tea community party,” Chakraborty said.