Lok Sabha Election in Jalpaiguri: Here Is What's Brewing in This Phase-1 West Bengal Seat Dotted with Tea Gardens

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News » Elections » Lok Sabha Election in Jalpaiguri: Here Is What's Brewing in This Phase-1 West Bengal Seat Dotted with Tea Gardens

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Last Updated: April 12, 2024, 15:04 IST

Jalpaiguri, India

Jalpaiguri is one of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal. Situated in north Bengal, the constituency is reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs). (Representational image/PTI)

Jalpaiguri is one of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal. Situated in north Bengal, the constituency is reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs). (Representational image/PTI)

Ground inputs suggest that BJP's Jayanta Roy may have an edge in Jalpaiguri. However, the TMC and its candidate Nirmal Chandra Roy are mounting a spirited fight which has led many to call the contest neck and neck

Jalpaiguri is one of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal. Situated in north Bengal, the constituency is reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs).

While six assembly segments of the Jalpaiguri Lok Sabha seat are in Jalpaiguri district, one assembly segment is in Cooch Behar district.

Out of the seven assembly segments the Trinamool Congress has MLAs in five. These are Mekliganj (SC), Dhupguri (SC), Jalpaiguri (SC), Rajganj (SC), and Mal (ST). The Bharatiya Janata Party has two MLAs [Maynaguri (SC) and Dabgram-Phulbari].

Voting in first phase

Current MP: Dr Jayanta Kumar Roy (BJP)

Candidates: Dr Jayanta Kumar Roy (BJP incumbent), Nirmal Chandra Roy (TMC), Debraj Barman (CPI-M)

Date of Polling: 19 April, 2024 (Phase-1)

Political Dynamics

Here is a close look at where the important political players stand in Jalpaiguri:

For the BJP, north Bengal became a saffron citadel after its staggering wins in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Interestingly, the BJP led in six of the assembly segments except Rajganj. Cut to 2021, the party had to witness most of Jalpaiguri’s assembly segments return to the TMC’s fold. There is broad consensus that while the voters picked Narendra Modi for Prime Minister, their choice for chief minister was Mamata Banerjee. The BJP is hoping that the voters’ ability to distinguish between national and state elections will win it Jalpaiguri this time too.The BJP has reposed faith in Dr Jayanta Kumar Roy, a seasoned politician who was also a member of the West Bengal legislative assembly. In 2019, he was able to secure close to 51% of the votes in Jalpaiguri. The TMC stood second with 38% of the votes. Ground inputs suggest that Jayanta Roy and the BJP have an edge in Jalpaiguri even today. However, the TMC is mounting a spirited fight which has led many to call the contest neck-and-neck. If the seat swings either way, it would not come as a surprise. It is also not a surprise, therefore, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is among the BJP’s top campaigners in Jalpaiguri.Alipurduar MP John Barla had been angling for a ticket from Jalpaiguri but was denied. It remains to be seen whether his disillusionment affects support for the BJP. Barla is a native of Jalpaiguri and has in recent days upped the ante against the BJP for denying him a ticket. He has accused two prominent state-level party leaders, Suvendu Adhikari and Manoj Tigga, of giving a wrong impression about him to the BJP’s central leadership. Barla maintains control over the BJP-supported tea trade union. Hailing from the tea belt, he enjoys considerable support within the tribal community. Any decision by Barla to initiate a counter-campaign or distance himself from the BJP’s campaign could significantly influence the voting preferences of the tribal population, particularly those residing in the tea estates throughout the Dooars region. This is a cause of concern for the BJP.TMC appears determined to flip the Jalpaiguri constituency and get its candidate, Nirmal Chandra Roy to the Lok Sabha for the next five years. Both the BJP’s Jayanta Kumar Roy and TMC’s Nirmal Chandra Roy are strong candidates, say observers. Mamata Banerjee has herself been campaigning frequently in Jalpaiguri for months, highlighting her work towards land rights, free houses, and improved healthcare for tea workers. The state’s TMC government has also announced that it will be acquiring six closed tea gardens in Jalpaiguri to provide income for tea garden workers. The state government has started paying Rs 1,500 to tea garden workers as well. This could prove beneficial for the TMC in Jalpaiguri, where the votes of tea garden workers and their families largely decide the outcome of elections.The TMC aims for a lead of at least 10,000 votes from the Jalpaiguri municipal area in the Jalpaiguri Lok Sabha constituency in the upcoming elections. In March, about 22 Trinamool councillors from the Jalpaiguri municipality were briefed about the party’s objectives and assigned specific targets. The Jalpaiguri municipality boasts a voter population of 68,000, with Trinamool winning 22 out of the 25 wards. Trinamool led by over 8,000 votes during the municipality election, a statistic that brings relief to party leaders. These, and other factors, have convinced the party that it stands a good chance of defeating the BJP in Jalpaiguri. The TMC has been attacking the BJP and Modi government on various issues ranging from the Centre’s alleged non-disbursal of funds to the state, the lack of development in Jalpaiguri, CAA and NRC, unemployment and the problems faced by the tea workers of north Bengal.The fate of the INDIA bloc continues to hang in the balance in West Bengal, as Mamata Banerjee has chosen to field TMC candidates on all 42 seats of the state. The Congress and the Left have had no choice but to field their own candidates, and this could potentially thwart any voter consolidation against the BJP. The CPI(M) has fielded Debraj Barman from Jalpaiguri. He has been citing widespread disillusionment with both the BJP and TMC, particularly concerning unemployment and migration issues. Barman’s candidature and the Congress and Left’s backing of him could upend the equations for both TMC and BJP. Although a diminishing force across West Bengal, the Left’s ability to split votes in a contest cannot be negated. In 2019 too, the Left candidate from Jalpaiguri, Bhagirat Chandra Roy, got the third highest number of votes.Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra passed through Jalpaiguri and observers say it would be interesting to see how the INDIA bloc impacts the TMC’s fortunes. The TMC would be particularly worried about the Left candidate eating into its minority votes.

Key issues

Voters of Jalpaiguri have a slew of issues that they want to be addressed by their representative:

There is palpable grouse among the people of Jalpaiguri over unaddressed drinking water problems and inadequate health infrastructure in the constituency. BJP’s candidate Jayanta Roy has been pushing for a “super speciality hospital” in the district to cater to people who have to rush outside the state during medical emergencies. However, he claims the TMC government has paid no heed to his demands.On the other hand, Mamata Banerjee late last year said that the Primary Health Centre in Banarhat will be converted into a 30-bed hospital and a fire station. A bulk of the focus of the TMC’s campaign is on highlighting the various promises that the BJP has not fulfilled.Come elections, big demands make a reappearance among the electorate. Among them is the demand for a separate Kamtapur state, which has picked momentum in recent months. The Kamtapur People’s Party, which wields significant influence among the Rajbongshis in north Bengal and certain areas of lower Assam, has started pushing the Centre and the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Recently, it submitted a memorandum to the PMO and union home minister Amit Shah, urging for the creation of a separate state and the inclusion of the Rajbongshi language in the eighth schedule of the Constitution.Another major complaint among voters in Jalpaiguri is over the issue of closed tea gardens. In 2016, PM Modi said that the Centre would reopen closed gardens. Also, the Centre had announced Rs 1,000 crore for the development of women and children in the tea belt. However, the tea gardens have still not been opened, and both the BJP and TMC are facing the heat for dragging their feet on the issue. Perhaps this is why the TMC got Trinamool Cha Bagan Shramik Union (TCBSU) — the tea trade union affiliated with INTTUC — to canvass for votes on behalf of Mamata Banerjee and highlight the work she has done for tea workers, including providing them a monthly stipend of Rs 1,500 and acquiring sic closed tea gardens in Jalpaiguri. Jayanta Roy of the BJP has been claiming that tea garden-related issues will be resolved by his party. However, his pitch is not convincing many who want an immediate redressal of the matter.North Bengal was recently hit by an unexpected cyclone that killed 5 while injuring hundreds of others. Mamata Banerjee rushed to the site of devastation within eight hours, pledging that the administration would stand by the affected people. However, even before her visit was officially announced, BJP’s IT cell chief and co-incharge for Bengal, Amit Malviya, had taken to social media accusing her of being cold towards north Bengal. Malviya claimed that BJP’s Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri candidates, Manoj Tigga and Jayanta Roy, had been the first at the spot helping people. On the other hand, Mamata’s nephew and TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee launched a scathing attack on the Modi government, saying the scale of the disaster was so significant due to the non-payment of funds under the PM Awas Yojana-Grameen (PMAY-G). He claimed that had the affected persons been living under concrete roofs, they wouldn’t have lost everything in just a few minutes.A raging issue in most of West Bengal is the alleged non-disbursal of central funds for schemes like Awas Yojana and NREGA. The BJP accuses the TMC of changing the names of these schemes to benefit Mamata Banerjee, even though the funds come from the Centre. In a recent interaction with BJP karyakartas, PM Modi had lambasted the TMC for “swindling funds: meant for the schemes and then falsely accusing the Centre of not releasing funds.A lack of jobs and the resultant migration of youth out of Jalpaiguri and West Bengal has also become an important election issue. Highlighting the migration of local youths to other states in pursuit of jobs, Jayanta Roy has accused the TMC government of neglecting the matter by failing to establish industrial units in the region.The rampant local-level corruption allegedly perpetrated by TMC members is steadily becoming a major issue in all parts of West Bengal – Jalpaiguri included. The BJP, led by PM Modi himself, is highlighting the alleged corruption prevalent within the TMC and how it is impacting the lives of ordinary citizens.

Voter demography

Total: 17,31,834

Rural: 1,170,720 (67.6%)

Urban: 561,114 (32.4%)

SC: 855,526 (49.4%)

ST: 131,619 (7.6%) (some estimates say the ST population is about 10%)

Muslims: 257,167 (14.8%)

Jalpaiguri’s population mostly comprises Koch Rajbongshis (around 30%), tribals (above 10%), Nepali speakers (around 4.5%), Hindi-speaking people (nearly 3%), and Limbus (1.9%).

Development

Redevelopment of New Jalpaiguri Railway Station: The New Jalpaiguri Railway Station is being upgraded by Indian Railways with world-class features for providing better, additional, and enhanced passenger amenities. The station is being redeveloped at an estimated cost of Rs 334.72 crore. The station is being designed so that the passengers will have an airport-like feel and comfort at the same time. It will have ultra-modern amenities like a large covered parking area, air-conditioned lobby, round-the-clock electricity, high-speed escalators, lifts, offices, shops, drinking water, air concourse, hotels, etc.

First Dry Port: The first inland container depot (ICD) or dry port in north Bengal began operation beside the tea park at Phulbari in West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district in 2021. An ICD is like a port having facilities for cargo handling and temporary storage of containers. It would help hinterland customers receive port services more conveniently closer to their premises. The ICD at Jalpaiguri caters to North Bengal and the Northeast as well.

Bagdogra Airport Upgradation: The union ministry of civil aviation and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) are working to construct a new terminal and allied infrastructure at the Bagdogra Airport. According to the plan, a terminal with an area of 70,000 square metres will come up in the first phase. Another 50,000 square metres would be added to the new terminal. As of now, the terminal is spread over 10,000 square metres.

Rail and Road Projects: In March, PM Modi dedicated multiple developmental projects in the rail and road sectors worth more than Rs 4500 crore in north Bengal. The projects include the Eklakhi-Balurghat section, Barsoi-Radhikapur section, Raninagar Jalpaiguri-Haldibari section, Siliguri-Aluabari section via Bagdogra, and Siliguri-Sivok-Alipurduar Jn-Samuktala (including Alipurduar Jn-New Cooch Behar) section.

Highway Projects: PM Modi inaugurated two national highway projects worth Rs 3,100 crore in West Bengal: the four-lane Ghoshpukur-Dhupguri section of NH 27 and the four-lane Islampur Bypass on NH 27. The Ghoshpukur-Dhupguri section is part of the north-south transport corridor connecting eastern India with the rest of the country.

Sanbeer Singh Ranhotra

Sanbeer Singh Ranhotra is a producer and video journalist at Network18. He is enthusiastic about and writes on both national affairs as well as geopol

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