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19 May 2018

Former KLO turf votes BJP

ANIRBAN CHOUDHURY and AVIJIT SINHA, TT, May 19, 2018, Alipurduar: The erstwhile hotbed of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) is the new "saffron" belt in north Bengal.

The BJP has bagged the panchayat samiti in Alipurduar's Kumargram, the farthest block in Bengal from Calcutta located over 750km away near the Assam border, for the first time. This was the only panchayat samiti the BJP won in north Bengal.

Kumargram had been in the headlines earlier as the ground where the KLO was formed. Several key militants, including the outfit's self-styled chief, Jeevan Singha, are residents of the block.

Home to tribals and the Rajbangshis and dotted with tea estates and farms, Kumargram has given Trinamul 77 panchayat seats and the BJP 59 this time. In the panchayat samiti, the BJP bagged 17 seats and Trinamul 15. Of the three zilla parishad seats that fall within the Kumargram block, Trinamul has won two and the BJP one.

"It is surprising that Kumargram residents have voted the BJP. It was earlier a stronghold of the Left and later Trinamul, like other pockets of Alipurduar," said an observer.#

The Kumargram Assembly seat, reserved for ST candidates, is represented by tribal development minister James Kujur. The former cop-turned-politician had defeated the RSP candidate by over 6,000 votes. The BJP had come third.

"The swing of votes from the Left to the BJP is clear in the rural polls, pushing the Left to the third position," the observer said.

The "sudden" rise of the BJP is being attributed to many reasons. One, some believe surrendered or arrested KLO militants have not got any response from the Mamata Banerjee's government on rehabilitation.

"There is discontentment. This might have deterred a major section of them from voting Trinamul," said a BJP leader.

Another reason is that the BJP highlighted initiatives taken by the party's government in neighbouring Assam. "Kumargram's residents have close ties with Assam. The BJP's campaign seems to have worked as many areas of the block still need development," another analyst said.

Yet another reason seems Trinamul's apparent complacency. "Trinamul was confident of having Kumargram in control. Its campaign wasn't as aggressive, like it was in Madarihat block where there is a BJP MLA. Trinamul did better than the BJP in Madarihat but never realised it would face such results in Kumargram where it has an MLA (Kujur)," the analyst said.

Trinamul leaders admitted surprise at the outcome. "We will discuss and find out how the BJP won seats in all three tiers at Kumargram, particularly in the middle tier (panchayat samiti)," said Mohan Sharma, Trinamul's Alipurduar chief.

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