Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee arrived in north Bengal for a 5-day tour on Monday, days after Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leaders met Prime Minister Narendra Modi with an appeal to consider formation of a separate Gorkhaland, and ahead of the municipal polls in Darjeeling district, likely to be held on May 14.
The Trinamool Congress chief is slated to declare Mirik as a new sub-division, host a meeting of the tribal advisory development council and announce development projects for adivasis.
The upcoming municipal polls in the district will be a test for the GJM’s hold on the hills, while the Trinamool is keen to build on the progress it has made in Assembly elections in the district and strengthen its dominion over Bengal.
Darjeeling district is one of the last remaining spaces in the state where Trinamool hasn’t been able to make any progress.
Moreover, the Trinamool recently took a hit in the Hills when Kalimpong-based Jan Andolan Party chief Harka Bahadur Chhetri said his party will not ally with it and contest elections alone.
Chhetri had launched his party a year before the 2016 elections, which he had fought with Trinamool backing. However, aides close to Chhetri say a rift between him and local Trinamool leaders prompted his decision.
On March 30, Mamata will announce Mirik as a new sub-division — a longstanding demand of residents of the Mirik block.
Senior Trinamool leaders said there are areas in Bagdogra, under the block, where people have to travel over 50 km to reach the sub-divisional headquarters at Kurseong.
“The CM has already declared Kalimpong a new district. With this announcement, the number of sub-divisions in the area will again come become three, since it had come down to two,” said a party leader.
Mamata, who heads the state’s tribal advisory development council, is also likely to announce decisions aimed at “the upliftment for adivasis of north Bengal”, said a party leader.
“She will be holding a meeting of the council on Tuesday. In the past few months, no such meeting has been held,” the leader added.
The tribal population accounts for almost a third of the voter percentage in North Bengal districts of Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Darjeeling, Malda and south Dinajpur.
“With rural polls to be held after the municipal polls, the demands of the adivasi people in the area need to be looked at. We have already introduced different social security schemes and other projects. But there is more work to be done,” the leader said.
On March 28, the CM will also hand over assistance to several beneficiaries and will introduce NBSTC buses with bio-toilets and mobile medical vans.
The GJM said that Mamata’s frequent trips to the Hills and the government announcing development initiatives while creating new districts are tactics to “distract voters from the issue of Gorkhaland”.
GJM general secretary Roshan Giri said, “Our main purpose in visiting the prime minister was to present our demand for a separate Gorkhaland to him. We have requested the prime minister to set up a committee to consider the demand, and he has assured us that he will.’’