The issues highlighted related to the distinct regions of North Bengal
This is the 2nd article in the series related to the upcoming 2021 West Bengal assembly elections. Continuing from the 1st article (The previous part of the article can be accessed here), in this article, I would try to highlight the issues related to the different regions of Bengal and how those issues shape the political landscape of that region.
The region of North Bengal stretches from bordering Assam up to Malda comprising of 7 districts namely Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, North Dinajpur & South Dinajpur & accounts for a sizable number of seats out of the total of 294 assembly seats in West Bengal. The region of North Bengal has long suffered from administrative paralysis & neglect and hence there is huge resentment among the people of North Bengal. The first issue that requires a mention is the plight of the tea-garden workers who have pleaded multiple times to both the Centre & State demanding minimum wage and financial assistance for closed & abandoned tea gardens without much assistance. The second issue that most residents of North Bengal complain about is the lack of large and medium scale industries that can generate employment for the youths so that they don’t have to migrate to other states in search of semi-skilled employment.
The political party which can assure the large affected population of providing a permanent solution to this menace can be expected to get an advantage.
The perennial neglect of North Bengal by successive regimes is highlighted in the fact that this region has one of the worst health infrastructures in Bengal where the local district hospitals are not adept in handling life-threatening emergencies and the patient has to be shifted to Kolkata based hospitals which is almost 500 km away.
Now, I would like to bring the readers’ attention to two important issues that require special mention. There was once a time when North Bengal was terrorized by the militant group namely Kamtapur Liberation Organization(KLO) demanding a separate Kampatur state for the Koch Rajbongshis. The armed militant demand for a separate state may have died down, but the issue still lingers on passively. Unofficially ex-militants of this faction have extended tacit support to the local leadership of the BJP as they believe that if BJP comes to power the issue might be resolved through political dialogue although I have serious doubts over it. It remains to be seen which way especially people of Alipurduar & Cooch Behar districts vote given that this issue is a predominant factor in these two districts. On a similar note, the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state is quite relevant in the Darjeeling belt where the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) representing this cause have sided with both BJP & TMC (Trinamool Congress) over the years and it is now to be seen which way the people of Darjeeling vote in the upcoming elections. This concludes the section on North Bengal and I feel that whichever party comes to power will have to give North Bengal its due share of importance.
Malda & Murshidabad
This section will discuss two districts that primarily comprise the Gangetic plains of Bengal and I will also try to explain why the issues in these two districts are so important and if they are not addressed would pose a serious threat to the identity of Bengal itself. Given that Murshidabad is my ancestral place, I have first-hand experience of these issues which are often overlooked in most political analysis. The first grave problem that Malda & Murshidabad is facing is the massive river bank erosion due to which thousands of people are rendered homeless and landless and millions have been spent over the years primarily by the Central government but without much dividends. Hence, the political party which can assure the large affected population of providing a permanent solution to this menace can be expected to get an advantage.
It is well known that laborers from Bengal migrate to different parts of the country in search of unskilled & semi-skilled employment. They work as masons & workers in the jewellery industry and most of them come from these 2 districts of Bengal. Post pandemic, more than 11 lakh migrant laborers have returned to their villages and it remains to be seen whichever political party who wins the election addresses this issue so that these laborers are employed locally which again highlights the issue of lack of small and medium scale industries in these two districts and Bengal as a whole. Historically Murshidabad has been known for its agricultural produces owing to its fertile land and also for jute handicrafts, sericulture, and silk products. However, the current situation of the local handicraft industry is in a deplorable state, and little has been done to revive the industry and it remains to be seen which way the people who are employed in this sector vote in the upcoming elections.
In this final section, I would like to highlight the issue which according to me is most important and needs to be addressed head-on without any dilly-dallying. Malda & Murshidabad have 51% and 65% minority populations respectively according to the 2011 census and high illiteracy rates. These two districts share most of the 2000 odd km porous Indo-Bangladesh border and as a result, it has seen a massive demographic shift for the past 2 decades just for petty electoral gains under the pretext of so-called secularism. Especially in the past 10 years, these two districts have seen massive Salafi radicalization among the minorities and have seen local madrassa being used as sleeper cells by the Bangladesh based Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JuM) group whose direct involvement was found in the Khagragarh blasts which unfortunately was brushed under the carpet by the ruling the state government and also by the national media, much like the communal persecution of the minority Hindus in these two districts. I feel the issue of demographic change would be a major factor in the upcoming elections and the voting pattern of the local Hindu population from these districts might change owing to the grave threat to their cultural identity.
In the next article, my focus of analysis will shift to Central & South Bengal which have their unique issues and which require separate political & economic solutions.
To be continued…
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.
 The 2021 West Bengal Elections – An analysis – Part-1 – Mar 17, 2021, PGurus.com
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