Ethnic groups in North Bengal reject BJP MP’s demand for a union territory

Ethnic groups said it was an attempt to create unrest ahead of the next Lok Sabha elections

Kolkata:

Several ethnic groups, which in the past few decades had agitated for the creation of separate states in North Bengal, have now rejected a BJP MP’s controversial demand for a union territory to include all districts of the region, calling it Called “unrealistic” and “vindictive”. “Trick.

John Barla, the saffron party’s MP from Alipurduar, recently sparked a political debate in the state when he called for the bifurcation of Bengal, to which the TMC and other parties gave a scathing reply.

Ironically, Mr. Barla’s demand did not find resonance with major identity-based groups in the region – the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJM), the Greater Cooch Behar People’s Association (GCPA) and groups supporting the Kamtapur movement.

He said it was an attempt to create unrest ahead of the next Lok Sabha elections in 2024.

Mr Barla, during his interaction with the party’s North Bengal leaders, had said that he would take up the matter in Parliament during the upcoming monsoon session.

His views were supported by BJP MP from Alipurduar Jayanta Roy and some other leaders.

However, the state unit of the BJP distanced itself from the demand, stating that “this was not the party’s official stand and was more of Barla’s personal opinion”.

Mr. Barla, who had earlier led a movement for an autonomous tribal region in the region, argued that North Bengal had long been neglected and that separation from the TMC-led state was the only way to initiate development. It is possible.

“There have been agitations in the past for a separate Kamtapur, a larger Cooch Behar and Gorkhaland. This prompted me to raise this demand… and to be honest, the North Bengal region has long faced neglect. It should be created in a separate Union Territory,” the BJP MP, who stands by his stand, said.

The tribal leader from Terai-Dooars also said that he and other leaders of the region would meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah on the issue.

His remarks have created a political storm in the state, strongly opposed by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the ruling TMC.

“We are against any partition of Bengal. We will not allow any such thing.

The TMC, which used the sub-nationalism card to rout the BJP in the March-April assembly elections, was quick to brand the saffron party as an “anti-Bengali” outfit, seeking to avenge its defeat in the state. wants to divide.

North Bengal, with its eight districts, including picturesque Darjeeling, is economically important to West Bengal as it has money-making tea, timber and tourism industries.

The location for the Siliguri Corridor, commonly known as ‘Chicken Neck’, is strategically important for the country as it connects the mainland with the northeastern states.

The region, which shares borders with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, has seen several violent state movements by various ethnic groups such as the Gorkhas, Rajbanshi, Koch and Kamtapuri communities since the early eighties.

GJM general secretary Roshan Giri rejected Mr. Barla’s stand, saying, “What would be the purpose of a union territory or a separate state comprising all the districts of North Bengal? We wanted a separate Gorkhaland state. We have been there since the 1980s. We are fighting for this. Don’t trust the BJP, they have fooled us since 2009.”

The demand for Gorkhaland was first made in the 1980s, when the GNLF led by Subhash Ghisingh launched a violent agitation in 1986, which lasted 43 days, resulting in hundreds of deaths.

This movement formed the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988. After the TMC took over the reins in Bengal in 2011, the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) was formed with GJM supremo Bimal Gurung as its head.

But peace in the region was short-lived as Mr. Gurung rekindled the movement in support of Gorkhaland in 2013, and went on a 104-day-long strike in 2017, accusing the TMC government of attempting to “erase” the Gorkha identity.

Mr. Giri, who belongs to the Gurung faction of the GJM, claimed that the BJP was making “false promises” and his organisation, which had joined hands with the TMC just before the assembly elections after years of rivalry, now has full faith in it. . Ms Banerjee has promised a permanent political solution.

Echoing them, GCPA’s Bangshi Badan Burman said a separate union territory was not tantamount to the demand for an independent state for the Rajbanshi, who make up the largest part of the Scheduled Caste population in the state.

“The princely state of Cooch Behar was annexed to India after independence with the promise of a C-class state. But that promise was not fulfilled, and part of the Kingdom of Cooch Behar was divided between Assam and West Bengal. Hence Making North Bengal as one state or union territory will not help much,” he told PTI.

Mr Burman also questioned the timing of Mr Barla’s proposal and wanted to know why the BJP leadership did not take up the matter during the assembly elections.

Leaders of the Kamtapuri movement in North Bengal, which led to the formation of the extremist organization Kamtapur Liberation Organization (KLO), feel the demand is “unrealistic” and an “attempt to set scores after the assembly elections defeat”.

“This is not only disorienting, but also unrealistic. The needs of the people in North Bengal vary from district to district.

“We will not support this call for Union Territory status. We want a separate state for Kamatpuri. The TMC government has carried out various development projects in the region since 2011. Still, much remains to be done. ” Kamtapur People’s Party (United) President Nikhil Roy said.

The Kamtapuri movement, once dangerous for its aggression, which demanded a separate state consisting of parts of northern Bengal and some districts of Assam, is a dim shadow of its former incarnation as many of its top leaders are either behind bars or returned. have come into the mainstream under TMC rule.

Even the GCPA and GJM are confused about factional feuds and have lost their old influence.

Mr Barla’s remarks, however, failed to generate any reaction among the separatist leaders, leading to a churn in the rank and file of the BJP in the region.

Many leaders openly opposed this and expressed their desire to leave the party.

The party’s Alipurduar district president Ganga Prasad Sharma joined the TMC on Monday.

Criticizing the saffron camp, TMC leader and Minister of State for North Bengal Development Sabina Yasmin said, “BJP cannot digest the humiliating defeat it suffered in the last assembly elections. It is now trying to break Bengal. But the people of this state And TMC will never let their sinister plans come to fruition.”

Observing that the Union Territory story would damage the party’s support base in the state, BJP state president Dilip Ghosh clarified that there is no such plan.

“Mr. Barla’s remarks are not the official stand of the party. The BJP has no such plans,” he said.

Among leaders of other parties, Congress MP Pradip Bhattacharya said that “such a resolution will only divide the masses and will never become a reality” as the resolution has to be passed in the assembly first.

Political analyst Vishwanath Chakraborty said both the Trinamool Congress and the BJP have adopted “double standards” in demanding a separate state in the region.

“This time, the BJP is at its peak, and John Barla’s demand for UT will damage the party both politically and electorally,” he said.

North Bengal, which sends eight MPs to the Lok Sabha, voted for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as the party won seven seats. The TMC, however, was able to regain its lost ground in the assembly elections held earlier in the year.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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