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Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders on Friday said tourism will be their primary weapon to counter Bimal Gurung’s Gorkhaland stir in Darjeeling. The move came alongside the party taking out a series of rallies and holding meetings “thanking people” for the “failure” of the 12-hour Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) bandh. Party leaders said that tourism had fast emerged as the primary industry in the area and the government was going to direct a chunk of the state’s tourism budget towards it.
TMC spokesperson for Darjeeling Binny Sharma said tourism had generated a lot of jobs in the area. “The industry is no longer limited to Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong. It has spread into villages. Hundreds of homestays have come up in rural pockets. Rural youths have bought vehicles and several others have indirectly got involved in tourism now,” he said.
The Banerjee regime is banking on the sector to increase employment and revenue for the state, said party leaders. In fact, Bengal has seen a 25-fold increase in budgetary allocation since the 2010 budget. The state has been promoting homestays and developing eco-tourism keeping the hills in mind.
State tourism minister Gautam Deb, who is also Darjeeling district’s TMC president, said the sector was one of the key development tools the state used to expedite socio-economic development in the hills. “The chief minister has proved that the tourism industry can change the economic condition of any location that has the necessary potential. Whether in the hills or the Dooars, people have responded to her initiative in large numbers and have become part of the industry,” Deb said.
Accusing the GJM-run Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) of ignoring the tourism potential of the hills, party leaders said that after the festive season, they planned to launch an extensive campaign to educate people about how the state government’s efforts had “apprised the local population of how tourism changed lives of thousands among them”.
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The TMC has consistently maintained that the GJM bandh — held earlier this week — which saw Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong virtually shut down, was a failiure. Party leaders claimed that only some people “stayed indoors” due to “fear of GJM”.
In Darjeeling and Kurseong, the processions were led by ministers James Kujur and Rabindranath Ghosh, respectively. The march in Mirik was led by Bishnu Golay, the president of the hill unit of Trinamool’s youth wing.
Darjeeling has continued to elude the TMC, in spite of their best efforts in the past year. In the 2016 Assembly elections, the TMC emerged as the second largest party in the hills in terms of votes and even though the GJM won all seats, it’s vote margin reduced drastically. Moreover, in the past few months, Darjeeling has witnessed a gradual weakening of GJM with a number of high profile leaders joining TMC. Cornered, Bimal Gurung relaunched the Gorkhaland agitation while filing a petition in the Supreme Court against the state government for not handing over administrative power to GTA.