WITH CHIEF Minister Mamata Banerjee set to formally announce Kalimpong a new district on Tuesday, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) is gearing up to protest in the hills. GJM chief Bimal Gurung, however, has pointed out that while he supports the creation of the new district, his party will protest against the state government for “not consulting all stakeholders, including Gorkha Territorial Administration” while taking the decision. Two years ago, Mamata had promised that a new district would be created — a longstanding demand of locals from the area, which at present is a sub-division. But the question being asked by the common man was whether Kalimpong would remain under GTA — an autonomous administrative body set up in 2012 after the second round of Gorkhaland movement in three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling district.
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“If Kalimpong wants three-tier panchayat polls and wants to stay out the GTA, the Bengal government will definitely look into it,” said a Trinamool Congress leader. Sources said Mamata hoped the new district would serve to neutralise Gurung and GJM’s aggressive campaigning for a separate Gorkhaland. Despite faring poorly in the 2016 state elections, particularly in Kalimpong, GJM has shown no sign giving up on Gorkhaland. “The party is going to continue its protest for Gorkhaland and to educate people about how Mamata Banerjee is using the new district and boards to divide the hills,” a GJM leader said.
This comes at a time when one of Mamata’s main allies in Kalimpong, former GJM spokesperson Harka Bahadur Chhetri — who had left GJM to form Jan Andolan Party — has since distanced himself from TMC. Sources said Chhetri distanced himself for two reasons. First, because he believes that his defeat in the state polls was due to his proximity to the Trinamool, and second, there have been growing differences between Chhetri and Trinamool in the hills, including with North Bengal Development Minister Goutam Deb.
Incidentally, Chhetri had fought the Assembly elections on the platform of Kalimpong being made a separate district. But while Mamata has fulfilled her promise to Kalimpong, aides close to Chhetri said that the issue of Gorkhaland remains an emotive issue in the hills. Since the polls, Chhetri had also toned down his criticism of the GJM.
So, while the Trinamool made inroads into the hill district for the first time during the 2016 elections, with municipal polls approaching, the inauguration of a new district may not be enough to consolidate its new found base.