GUWAHATI, Aug 27 - After losing a substantial segment of its traditional tea community votes to the BJP during both the 2014 Lok Sabha and the 2016 Assembly polls, the Opposition Congress is focusing on regaining the support of the community as the party gears up for next year�s general elections.
The Tea and Ex-Tea Mazdoor Congress department of the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) is confident that voters of the community are searching for an alternative to the BJP and believes that they will play a major role in helping the Opposition wrest back constituencies like Dibrugarh and Jorhat in 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Speaking to The Assam Tribune, chairman of the Tea and Ex-Tea Mazdoor Congress department Rupjyoti Kurmi said that the full fledged State-level committee of the department will be formed within a week or two.
Kurmi had been appointed as chairman of the Tea and Ex-Tea Mazdoor Congress department earlier this month by APCC president Ripun Bora, in what has been termed as a move to bring about a generational change in the department by easing out old warhorses from position of leadership by infusing young blood.
�It is true that people in the tea gardens and among the tea community who reside in rural areas were swayed by promises made by BJP in 2014 and 2016. That resulted in some gain for the BJP. However, the tea community has become totally disenchanted with the ruling party within this short period. BJP showed them dreams which have now vanished. So the tea community is steadily coming back to us,� Kurmi, who is a three-time MLA from Mariani, said.
He added, �We have not had to do much of our own. Tea community people are themselves flocking back to us. Once our new full-fledged committee is in place, we will carry out a series of programmes among the tea tribes.�
Kurmi said that the BJP government has not launched any new scheme for the tea community.
�It was our Congress regimes of past which launched various welfare projects and now BJP is continuing with some of the schemes, even as many others have been dismantled. There is lot of frustration within the community, especially among the youths. After all, the rate of unemployment in tea gardens is as high as 40 per cent. MNREGA jobs are not available. Kerosene subsidy has been slashed while the quantum supplied is down,� he said.
The Congress leader said that the tea sector in Assam is in distress.
�We are getting very good response from tea community people. They are again starting to look at such as an alternative,� Kurmi said.
As part of the strategy to reach out to the tea community, All India Congress Committee general secretary in-charge for Assam and former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat, who arrived in the State yesterday, will hold face-to-face interactions with tea garden labourers at two estates in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh district on August 28 and August 29.
�The tea community was among our captive vote bank for decades. However, BJP was able to make inroads among voters of the community due to our own shortcomings. We are now seeking to regain our old base and the very fact that a new leadership, consisting of young blood, has been put in charge of the department shows the seriousness of the party in this regard,� said a senior Congress office-bearer.
It is noteworthy that the tea community plays a decisive role in many Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies of the State, primarily in Upper Assam, Barak Valley and the North Bank areas.