Jan. 15: The membership of the CPM's trade union for tea garden workers has come down from around 78,000 in 2007 to 30,000 in 2011 in the Dooars, says a report prepared by the Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union.
The Citu union, which was once the biggest workers' organisation in the gardens, said the sharp fall in the membership was mainly because of its failure to address the issues faced by labourers and the emergence of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad.
Observers said the report was a warning for the CPM ahead of the coming panchayat polls. The secretarial report was presented at the 21st central conference of the trade union held at Malbazar in Jalpaiguri on January 12 and 13.
"The Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union ' the tea trade union wing of the Citu ' has lost a large number of members as we could not meet some of the basic demands raised by the people of the brew belt of Jalpaiguri," says the report presented by Mantu Bose, the secretary of the Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union.
According to a chart in the secretarial report (a copy of which is with The Telegraph), the total membership was 78,410 in 2007 and has come down to 30,433 in 2011 ' a reduction of 47,977 in five years.
A Citu leader said the base of the tea trade union had eroded because of the formation of the Morcha and the Parishad, which espouse the cause of the Gorkhas and the Adivasis, respectively, during the period.
"The Morcha was formed in 2007. In the next year, north Bengal, particularly the Dooars, saw the birth of the Parishad. The Morcha and the Parishad took up many problems afflicting the garden populace and fought each other over the inclusion of the Dooars and the Terai in the GTA, thus winning a large chunk of the workforce. When our members became a minority in gardens, they became apprehensive and left the organisation," said the Citu leader.
Land rights, employment generation and the establishment of Hindi-medium schools were some of the demands raised by the Parishad and Morcha.
The report said the Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union had 16,835, 7,592 and 11,134 members respectively in Nagrakata, Metelli and Birpara in 2007. The membership came down to 2,301, 424 and 5,754, respectively, in 2011. The three zones are now known as Parishad hubs.
The Morcha had eaten into the Citu wing's support base in Oodlabari, Kalchini and Hasimara, where the membership was 3,345, 2,286 and 1,170, respectively, in 2007. The membership stood at 333, 1,162 and 500 in 2011.
The CPM union also lost about 50-60 per cent of its supporters in Rajganj, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Banarhat in the five-year period.
The CPM said it would strive to consolidate the position before the panchayat polls.
"The Parishad and the Morcha have taken away a good number of our supporters by spreading false propaganda against the then Left government and they had support from the Trinamul Congress for this. We had already suffered a setback in the Assembly polls in 2011 and we realised our mistakes. Our task is now to bring back our supporters and consolidate the position before the panchayat elections," said Krishna Banerjee, the Jalpaiguri district secretary of the CPM.
Observers said the decrease in the membership of the CPM's tea garden union would affect the party's prospects in the panchayat polls.
"Trinamul's tea trade union has to walk miles. So far, it has formed units only in 50-odd gardens (Dooars has around 160 tea estates). However, as the party is mulling over a proposal to join hands with Morcha and JMM in the panchayat polls, it is a cause of concern for the CPM and the Congress. Further, the decline in the membership has mounted additional pressure on the CPM," said an observer.
The observers said those who had joined the Parishad were likely to vote for independent candidates that the tribal outfit would field in the polls. "Those who joined the Morcha would vote for the candidates to be lined up by the Trinamul-Morcha-JMM alliance," said the observer.