The hills have eyes: New Kalimpong district will watch out for Didi's promises
The development of the Lepcha community in the Darjeeling hills is one of the strongest poll issues that have come to the fore ahead of next year's municipal election. Bengal Chief Minister, who is on a three-day tour in the area, has already started to make overtures to the community and has urged them to vote for the Trinamool Congress.
While addressing locals at the Lepcha Board Foundation Day Programme in Kalimpong, she also declared Kalimpong in the Darjeeling hills as the 21st district of the state. So far, Kalimpong used to be a sub-division under the Darjeeling district. Mirik will be the sub division of the new district.
GJM vs GTA vs TMC
Her comments come at a time when the TMC is still fighting to get a strong foothold in the hills now that the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) has intensified its stir for a separate state of Gorkhaland. During the 2016 assembly elections, TMC candidate Bhaichung Bhutia had lost the Siliguri seat by 14,072 votes to Siliguri mayor and former CPI-M minister Ashok Bhattacharya.
On 22 September, during Mamata's rally, the GJM demonstrated outside the grounds in Kalimpong where Banerjee was addressing a crowd.
At the rally, Banerjee said, "We do not have an MLA/MP or a councilor of TMC who can represent the development of several communities of the hills. The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) - an elected body - looks after various departments in the hills for overall development and we have only few departments in our fold for the development of the community."
Development on the cards
Mamata announced that the Lepcha Development Board has set up 3,000 homes and plans to set up another 1,000 are underway. She also promised to set up homes for other communities after their respective boards have been set up.
Banerjee added that she would support any party that would come to power in the hills if they work for the overall of all the communities including Tamang, Newa, Bhujal, Khas, Kami, Damai, Saki and Vishwakarma.
"If TMC does not comes to power in the upcoming municipality or the panchayat elections, I will support the party who will come to power only if they work for the development of the communities living here."
Banerjee also declared that she has already set up the Lepcha Development Board and plans are there to set up other boards for - Bhujal, Newa, Tamang and Kami and organise an annual function for different communities for their overall development. The boards will be constituted to protect, promote and safeguard the interest of the communities and also uphold their culture and tradition.
The birth of Kalimpong, the district
She also said that Lepcha Development Board has already translated a book of eminent writer Mahasweta Devi and that the government would provide funds to set up a community centre in Kalimpong for the Lepchas. The CM reminded them that the state government has already given Rs 120 crore for the overall development of the Lepcha Development Board.
She also announced Rs 119 crore for the setting up infrastructure for the development of the board and assured the crowd that after the caste review process is completed she might include many of the tribes in the SC/ST list so that they may avail the benefits.
She urged the chairman of the development board to quickly submit the utilisation certificates (UC) so that state government can provide funds to set up other projects for the development of the other communities.
GJM chimes in
Mamata's visit comes at a time when the GJM is reviving its agitation for a separate state - Gorkhaland. Earlier, Bimal Gurung, the GJM president and chief executive officer of the GTA, claimed he wouldn't quit the GTA as the TMC is waiting for the opportunity to grab power in the GTA, and that he refuses to give them the opportunity.
"Instead, the way Mamata Banerjee is using the state government to interfere in the hills, I would fight her designs from within the limits of the GTA," Gurung said.
However, TMC's position in the hills is precarious with a number of senior leaders joining TMC, including the GTA chairman Pradeep Pradhan.
What political analysts have to say
Mamata is now worried about the GJM and its protests and is trying to chalk out a strategy as to how to build a support base.
Professor Amol Mukherjee, a political analyst, said, "With the support and formation of the boards for various tribals in the hills, Mamata might regain TMC's foothold in the hills, but she has to deal with it slowly so that GJM does not launch a massive agitation against the state government."
Edited by Aleesha Matharu