Tej Kumar Toppo is the state general secretary of Akhil Bhartiya Adivasi Vikash Parishad (ABAVP), an all India social welfare organisation that has influence over a large section of tribal voters in North Bengal, particularly the Terai region of Darjeeling and the Dooars of Jalpaiguri districts. Toppo, 62, is a retired income tax officer and a hardliner against the ruling CPI (M). ABAVP has joined hands with the Kamtapur Progressive Party (KPP) and has fielded seven candidates of its own, while extending support to the KPP in seven other seats. It uses bow and arrow as the party symbol, the same as Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM).
Why did ABAVP decide to contest the assembly polls?
This election is an opportunity for the Adivasi community to teach CPI(M) a lesson. Tribals of the Terai and the Dooars are held as Scheduled Tribes (ST), but have been neglected in every aspect. This election has given us an opportunity to pitch for Sixth Schedule status for the tribals.
But wouldn’t your alliance with KPP help the CPI(M), as other ethnic outfits like Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and Progressive People’s Party have forged a separate alliance against the CPI(M)?
No. The CPI(M) would not get ethnic votes this time as it has failed to ensure the development of ST and other ethnic communities.
What issues would you stress on this election?
Special status under Sixth Schedule of the Constitution for the Terai and Dooars, a separate ministry to look into problems of the tea industry, land rights for tea garden workers, establishment of Hindi-medium colleges, implementation of the Prevention of SC and ST Atrocity Act 1989 and hike in wages of tea garden workers.
What is the state of tribals in tea gardens?
There are virtually no employment opportunities for the community except for a few. The Adivasi youths are not even considered suitable for jobs of peons, sweepers and clerks in state- run North Bengal State Transport Corporation (NBSTC). This Left Front government has to be dislodged from power.