Siliguri, Nov. 13: Tribal leader John Barla met Trinamul Congress minister Gautam Deb today, leading to speculation that an alliance between the ruling party and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) for the panchayat polls is in the works.
Barla, who had joined the JMM after his ouster from the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad, hopes a tie-up with Trinamul will help his party increase its support base in the Dooars and Terai.
Today's meeting was held at the forest rest house in Mongpong, 25km from here, and around 15 leaders of the Barla group were present.
"We met the minister to discuss a number of issues pertaining to the Dooars, including the closure of tea estates like Dheklapara and Bandapani. We also referred to the ensuing panchayat polls and expressed our willingness to hold talks with him again to discuss a prospective alliance between Trinamul and the JMM," said Sukra Munda, a leader of the JMM in the Dooars.
Munda said Deb also sounded willing to join hands with the tribal group and promised to get back to Barla after talking to state Trinamul leaders.
A tie-up with the JMM for the panchayat polls would be a boost for Trinamul which lacks a widespread base in the plains. Ever since Trinamul has formed the government, the party has been trying to make forays into the Dooars. Even today, the Left and the Congress hold sway in tea gardens and forest villages.
"The Inttuc, the trade union of Trinamul, has already formed units in 50-odd tea gardens. The party has some base in urban areas like Malbazar, Birpara and Alipurduar but is yet to find a toehold in tea belts. So, a tie-up with Barla is a good option for Trinamul," said an observer.
Trinamul insiders said the party could bridge a critical gap by entering into a tie-up with the JMM.
"We lack a support base in tea gardens as there is a dearth of tribal leaders in the party in the Dooars. We need prominent tribal faces to win the hearts of the adivasis and Barla will be beneficial for Trinamul in that way," said a Trinamul leader in Siliguri.
He said although Trinamul was in touch with the Parishad, an alliance was not possible with the tribal outfit as it was an NGO. "We don't have such problems with the JMM as it is a political party."
Sukra Munda is in charge of the trade union operations of the Barla group.
Deb said there would be more talks with the Barla group, but refused to say much on the formation of the alliance.
"Trinamul has been maintaining close contact with adivasis across the state as directed by Mamata Banerjee. We can learn about their aspirations, demands and problems and solve the issues through such talks," Deb said.
"Today's meeting discussed the progress of the welfare schemes being taken up by the government in the Dooars. John Barla and his colleagues took up with us some other issues related to basic amenities. We have asked them to give it to me in writing so that I can take up the matter with departments concerned," he added.
"A political exercise is going on in the Dooars at formal and informal levels to expand Trinamul's base. People in the Dooars have realised that only Trinamul is sincere about redressing their problems. We will hold more talks with Barla after Diwali and I need to consult senior leaders of Trinamul," said Deb.