With Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday announcing a slew of development measures in Kalimpong — which will soon be carved into a separate district — her one-time political ally Bimal Gurung of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) claimed that the hill town was the “land of Gorkhaland lovers”.
Speaking at the foundation day programme of the Lepcha Board, Mamata said: “The Lepcha Board has already built three thousands of homes for the poor. The various development boards must promote cultural activities and make Darjeeling clean and green. We want Darjeeling to prosper and become the best. Kalimpong will become a new district. We have allotted Rs 6 crore for building infrastructure.” Mamata is currently on a three-day trip to the hills concluding on Friday.
Ahead of addressing a rally in Kalimpong, Mamata met several local leaders, including those from the Lepcha, Tamang, Newa, Bhujal, Khas, Kami, Damai, Saki, Vishwakarma and Gurung communities. She was also accorded the status of ‘Kingchuk Dermit’ — the highest award of the Lepcha community, said Trinamool leaders.
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This, however, did not go down well with GJM. Ahead of CM’s rally, GJM supporters burnt an effigy of TMC leader Arup Biswas, who had demanded that Gurung leave the hills.
In a statement, Gurung alleged that Mamata was frequently visiting the hills, particularly Kalimpong, to “suppress the Gorkhaland voice” with the help of some “people with vested interests who are trying to divide the Gorkha community into pieces” by forming developmental boards. “In reality, Kalimpong is a land of Gorkhaland lovers. However, some people with vested interests are belittling Kalimpong. The person who is dividing the Gorkha community is being felicitated as the chief minister who wants good of the Gorkhas,” he said.
Gurung alleged that the Gorkhaland issue was “being suppressed” with the promise of “temporary benefits”. On Tuesday, he had met around 600 of his party supporters from Dooars and Terai regions to discuss strategies for the agitation.
When faced with criticism that he had “abandoned” his people in Dooars and Terai, after the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) came into being in 2011, he alleged, “We worked hard and elected many leaders to panchayats and school managing committees. This was because I cannot give you anything from the GTA. But I believed that the leaders would deliver. The supporters are active even now but the leaders have lost their way in the plains.”
His allegation was aimed at leaders such as Kalchini MLA Wilson Champramary. The MLA, who had won with GJM support in 2011, has joined Trinamool. Even leaders such as Padam Lama, who was Morcha’s head in the Dooars, has switched over to the ruling party.
Gurung, after the state polls earlier this year, had found his influence over the hills waning. A number of senior leaders, including GTA chairman Pradeep Pradhan, have recently joined Trinamool. In response, Gurung went on to relaunch the agitation for a separate Gorkhaland. Simultaneously, a plea was also filed at the Supreme Court challenging the West Bengal government’s refusal to transfer administrative power and various subjects to the GTA, in spite of a tripartite agreement between the state and Centre in 2011.
While not directly targetting Gurung, Mamata focused on her developmental agenda. “I want to work for the development of Darjeeling hills. We have sanctioned ITI, polytechnic colleges, medical college and an education hub. We want tourism industry in the hills to flourish. We have set up a separate tea directorate for North Bengal,” she said. “If hills do not progress, Bengal cannot progress. I am like your sister. We have to live in harmony in the Hills. I will keep coming here… So what if you did not vote for us in the elections? We will keep working for the development of hills. There is no substitute for good work. Keep working and we will extend all cooperation,” she added.