CHIEF MINISTER Mamata Banerjee on Monday came down heavily upon Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) after she faced black flag protests by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) members near Mirik in Darjeeling. The chief minister also accused the GJM leadership of “trying to divide people on the lines of Nepali and Bengali” by opposing her government’s decision to make Bengali compulsory in all schools.
Mamata said that her government would conduct a “special audit of the funds” received by the GTA in the Darjeeling hills in the last five years and warned of action if any discrepancies were found. “I will instruct the state Finance Department to run a special audit on how the money has been used by GTA. If they have done a good job, we will reward them. But if we find any discrepancy, we will not spare even the secretary of the GTA. The GTA is under the jurisdiction of the state government. We can always inquire into how much money has been used properly and how much has been siphoned off,” Mamata said while addressing a public meeting at Mirik.
The chief minister said that some youths showed her black flags when she was on her way to Mirik. “I got down from my car and wanted to speak to them. But they fled. I will tell those who have been organising such protests that do not threaten me. The more you threaten me the more I will retaliate,” she said. On July 18, 2011, a tripartite agreement was signed between the GJM, the state and the central governments for setting up a new autonomous, elected GTA, a hill council armed with more powers than its predecessor, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, formed in the late 1980s. The GJM won the first GTA elections held in 2012, and is running the board since then.
Mamata also criticised the GJM for its opposition to the government’s decision to make Bengali compulsory from Class I to X in all schools and slammed the leadership for trying to create a “Gorkha-Bengali” divide in Darjeeing hills ahead of the GTA election. The chief minister lashed out at GJM leadership for spreading “lies” that the state government was replacing Nepali with Bengali language. The GJM had shut schools for two days in Darjeeling to protest the government’s decision to introduce a three-language policy.
“They are trying to create a division between the people in the hills and the plains. They are trying to divide people on the lines of Nepali and Bengali. It is a crime to divide people based on languages. I have never said that Bengali would be compulsory in the hills. This is 100 per cent lie. I haven’t seen such a liar in my life. (Gorkha National Liberation Front chief Subash) Ghising was not like this,” Mamata said in a veiled reference to GJM chief Bimal Gurung.
Mamata further explained, “I have proposed a three-language formula. It is our government which gave recognition to Nepali language as one of the official languages of the state government’s recruitment exams. We have never asked the students of the hills to stop learning Nepali, Hindi or English. We want people in the hills to know Bengali so that they can get government jobs in other areas of Bengal. In a Nepali-speaking region, knowing Nepali is important but in Bengal-speaking region, knowing a little bit of Bengali is also important.”
Lambasting GJM leadership for shutting down schools, Mamata said, “They are doing this because the GTA election is approaching and they have no other issues. That is why they are resorting to politics of hooliganism.” Mamata later announced that she would hold her first cabinet meeting in Darjeeling on June 8.