UPON ENTERING the CPM office in Jalpaiguri, one stumbles upon a recently garlanded photograph of Vladmir Lenin. No one is quite sure how old the portrait is. Some say 20 years, other 30.
“Most things don’t change here,” said a party worker. But one thing might: “This has always been a Congress seat and now we might win,” he added.
Despite the continuing decline of the Congress in the state, the party had mysteriously managed to hold against the Left and then Trinamool Congress in Jalpaiguri.
Since 1951, the Jalpaiguri Assembly seat has only seen a CPM MLA in 1969. The only Left Front ally, who has done well in Jalpaiguri is All India Forward Bloc — there were two MLAs in a period of 65 years.
“It’s not a secret really. Jalpaiguri was a town of tea plantation owners and their staff. Not the workers. The Left represented the workers and the Congress was the party of the owners. But Trinamool changed this completely… making this alliance necessary to bring about a change,” said former Jalpaiguri MP and CPM leader Minati Sen.
On Friday, like other CPM workers, Sen had come to the party office — a daily routine which most party members rarely strayed away from. Cups of black tea were served. The fact that it was locally produced and not from Darjeeling was mentioned and then the discussion on Congress continued.
Despite Sen’s insistence that the “alliance” has been smooth, the discussion betrayed the inherent uneasiness. While Congress was described as “feudal” and “anti-worker”, the electoral understanding was deemed “necessary” and “unfortunate” within a few minutes.
But the Congress in Jalpaiguri betrayed no doubt in the so-called alliance. Sitting MLA Sukhbilas Barma, who has been campaigning extensively in the area, said: “We have worked hard for the people and voters know this.”
He is up against BJP’s Tapon Roy and Trinamool’s Dharitri Mohan Roy on April 17.
Many at the CPM office expressed concerns about how long CPM can last in the seat.
“Earlier, Forward Bloc held sway here. After all, Subhash Chandra Bose is loved and respected by the Bengali middle class and all others. Things have worked out well for the Congress… we don’t know what is in store for us,” said a senior CPM leader.