Tea tribes cry ‘betrayal’

May 29 : Assam’s tea community today hit the streets burning effigies of chief minister Tarun Gogoi, holding him responsible for veteran community leader Paban Singh Ghatowar’s exclusion from Manmohan Singh’s council of ministers.
Anger also swept across the Congress rank and file in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh because their MPs were deprived of ministerial berths.
Members of the tea community shouted slogans against Gogoi and held demonstrations in several gardens of Upper Assam since morning. The influential Asom Chah Mazdoor Sangha — affiliated to Intuc — also convened an extraordinary meeting of the union at its headquarters in Dibrugarh to discuss threadbare the future course of action over the non-inclusion.
The Ghatowar-headed ACMS, which represents around 10 lakh tea labourers in the Brahmaputra valley, has called another meeting in Guwahati on Monday and threatened to launch a political party in the 2011 Assembly elections to protest against the “great betrayal” of the tea community by the Congress.
Ghatowar regained the Dibrugarh seat from the AGP’s Sarbananda Sonowal. Since he won the seat for the fifth time and is also a former Union minister of state, community members said he was both “senior and experienced”.
Security has been tightened in and around tea gardens in view of the tension in some areas, sources said.
“As of now we have decided to field our own candidates in the elections and we will adopt certain strategies to ensure that the candidates from the Congress lose. We might even form a political party,” Lakheswar Tanti, the circle secretary of the Moran circle of the ACMS said. Tanti is also a member of the central working committee of the ACMS.
The meeting, presided over by Dileswar Tanti, the general secretary in-charge of the ACMS, has urged elected Congress leaders to spell out their stand on Ghatowar’s exclusion.
The PCC tea cell has termed the denial of berth to Ghatowar as unfortunate but hoped the Prime Minister would accommodate him keeping in mind the party’s interest vis-à-vis the 2011 Assembly elections.
“It is unfortunate but we are hopeful that he will be accommodated in the future, keeping an eye on the 2011 polls. Our job was to ensure tea votes and we have done that by ensuring the victory of our candidates in Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Kaliabor and Lakhimpur. To keep it intact, the only MP from the community needed to be accommodated,” Bhagirath Karan, chairman of the PCC’s tea cell, said after returning from Delhi.
While the Congress in Assam won seven Lok Sabha seats, it won two each in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. The party bagged 13 of the 24 seats in the region.
Senior Congress leaders in Imphal also expressed their “disappointment” and “anger” by not turning up at the Congress Bhawan during the swearing-in ceremony in Delhi.
Bidyapati Senjam, a general secretary in Manipur PCC, declined to comment but admitted that the mood among the rank and file was “bad”. A party worker said, “We feel betrayed. We have three MPs. Why was none of them included? Meghalaya was given two berths. This is as good as ignoring the sentiments of the Manipuri people.”
There was disappointment in Arunachal Pradesh too. PCC sources said the decision has left chief minister Dorjee Khandu shattered as he had been lobbying for a berth for Rajya Sabha MP Mukut Mithi.
PCC president Nabam Tuki said they were hopeful about Mithi’s inclusion but would abide by the high command’s decision.