Discontent brews among Assam tea plantation workers over demand for tribal status.
Jorhat: Karna Keot, a 'sardar' or a supervisor in Deha tea estate, could not attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rally at Assam's Moran on Friday. But he is keen to find out what the Prime Minister had to say on granting them tribal status.
Discontent brews among Assam tea plantation workers over demand for tribal status as they have been promised the same by both the Congress and the BJP.
"We should have been granted tribal status long back. Even if it is done now before elections, it will be good," says the 48-year-old worker as he takes a break to speak to us.
Assam has over 60 lakh plantation workers and most of them are adivasis who were brought from the Chhota Nagpur Plateau - present day Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Bihar - by the British planters in the 19th century.
Elsewhere, adivasis are considered as Scheduled Tribe but in Assam they are considered as Other Backward Classes or OBC. Once granted tribal status, tea garden workers would be entitled to higher reservation in government jobs and educational institutions.
Though the Prime Minister didn't raise the tribal issue but Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal claimed it will be a reality soon.
The issue is debated before every election as tea garden workers are a deciding factor in 35 out of total 126 assembly seats. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had promised tribal status for tea garden workers and got their support.
However, patience seems to be running out among the tea garden workers, especially the younger lot.
"The Congress government had said they will do it so the Modi government that has been in power for almost two years, but nothing has happened," says 25-year-old Prakash Tati, who works as an assistant in the garden factory.
Congress sees this delay as an opportunity to reach out to a group that had traditional supported the party.
Tarun Gogoi government is distributing land to tea workers, has started free transportation service for students from the garden community and also recommended higher daily wages.
"In these elections, no matter which party wins but we want the candidate from our community," says Prakash.