A small settlement established four decades ago after a bloody movement by Left sympathisers on the India-Bhutan border in West Bengal is slowly moving away from the CPI(M) after years of unwavering support.
Lal Jhamela Basti was set up by local villagers who claimed their right to land was given away by the then Congress government to a private tea company in the early 1970s. The agitation was led by two CPI(M) youth — Lal Somra Oraon and Jhamela Somra Oraon — who clashed with police forces. Many CPI(M) workers were injured in the violence but the villagers were able to settle down in the area.
Each of the 329 families was given three bighas of land for free and the settlement was named after the two leaders. Lal Somra Oraon, now 80, tells HT that he still supports the CPI(M). He was once the CPI (M)’s local committee secretary and used to head the CITU-affiliated Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union.
But more than 45 years later, Lal Jhamela Basti is no more a CPI(M) citadel. The area is decorated with Congress, TMC and BJP flags. Many of the settlement’s 1,325 voters say they may not vote for the Left when Nagrakata– the assembly constituency the Basti falls under – goes to the polls on April 17.
Lal is respected by everyone and leaders of different political parties make a beeline for him.
“I cannot forget the miseries and pain we had to undergo during the Congress rule when we were fighting for the trade union and land rights,” Lal says, adding he is still a CPI (M) member. But will he vote for the Congress with whom the CPI (M) has an alliance? “As a loyal CPI (M) man I have to follow the party’s instruction,” he reluctantly says.
The incumbent Trinamool Congress is locked in a fight with an informal Left-Congress alliance and the BJP in the state.
Padam Rai of the CPI(M) – who won the 2013 gram panchayat election from this village but switched to the Trinamool Congress – admits the Left is losing support.
Joseph Munda, who won the last assembly election from the area, is the Congress candidate this time. Sukra Munda is the TMC nominee. The other hero of the struggle, Jhamela, is now a paralytic. “It hurts when none from the party for which he sacrificed so much care for him,” his wife Basanti says.
Jhamela greets visitors by trying to raise his right hand in the traditional style of Left cadre. Many political changes have come to the Basti but Jhamela is still a diehard CPI (M) supporter, Basanti says.