‘Want to Give BJP a Chance’: Assam’s Tea Tribes Back Modi

Here’s why the tea tribes of Assam have switched loyalties from the Congress to the BJP. 

2 min read

In one of the largest alcohol related deaths in India, almost 150 people died after consuming illicit liquor. On 21 February, in the twin districts of Jorhat and Golaghat, many tea garden workers lost their lives after having consumed their usual drink – locally called ‘sulai’ – which turned out to be spurious liquor.

57 people died after drinking illicit liquor in Halmira Tea Estate in Assam. 
57 people died after drinking illicit liquor in Halmira Tea Estate in Assam. 
(Photo: The Quint)

The Halmira Tea Estate in Golaghat district was the epicentre of the tragedy, with 57 lives lost in this area.

The tea tribes of Assam are one of the most backward communities in the state. Those who work in the tea gardens hail from the Adivasi community and most of them were brought to Assam from Jharkhand by the British Tea Planters in the late nineteenth century. The tea tribes consist of multiple tribal groups such as Santhals, Gonds, and Mundas.

This election season, The Quint travelled to Halmira to speak to some tea estate workers to find out who they would vote for in the Lok Sabha elections.

The Quint’s chaupal with the workers of Halmira tea estate. 
The Quint’s chaupal with the workers of Halmira tea estate. 
(Photo: The Quint)
“Traditionally we have voted for Congress but they haven’t done much for us. So we want to give BJP a chance.”
Babul Das, Worker, Halmira Tea Estate     
“The BJP govt has opened bank accounts in which they deposited Rs 2500. They are providing cooking gas and finally we have a paved road in the residential colony. This has happened in the last five years.”
Bhanu, Worker, Halmira Tea Estate     

Why Are Assam’s Tea Workers Aligned with BJP?

The tea tribes were traditionally Congress supporters, but the 2014 general elections saw them switch sides with the election of two BJP MPs from the tea belt. One of the main reasons for this switch was the long-standing demand of Scheduled Tribe Status for the tea tribes – something that the BJP promised to fulfill.

In January this year, the Minister of Tribal Affairs Jual Oram tabled The Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in the Rajya Sabha, reinforcing the tea-estate workers’ support for the BJP.

In fact, during his recent election rally in Moran, Assam, Prime Minister Modi has reiterated his promise to ensure the tea tribes of Assam get the Scheduled Tribe status.

The tea tribes have a decisive vote in almost 7 Lok Sabha constituencies in Assam, and the BJP is making all the right moves to woo them.

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