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Monday, July 16, 2018

Mamata Banerjee declares Kalimpong 21st district, promises sops

“I urge all people in the hills to live peacefully and not pay heed to any attempt of igniting violence,” the West Bengal Chief Minister said.

By: Express News Service | Kolkata | Published: February 15, 2017 12:33:24 am
In Kalimpong on Tuesday. Photo courtesy: Mamata Banerjee’s Twitter handle In Kalimpong on Tuesday. Photo courtesy: Mamata Banerjee’s Twitter handle

The new district of Kalimpong — the demand for which first began in the 1980s — was finally ratified by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday for “ensuring all round development of the hills”. Kalimpong will now be the state’s 21st district. “I urge all people in the hills to live peacefully and not pay heed to any attempt of igniting violence,” Mamata said while referring to the burning down of government bungalows in North Bengal a couple of years ago, which the ruling TMC suspects was done by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).

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“We have rebuilt the Takdah bungalow and others. We will ensure all-round development of the hills,” she said. The chief minister arrived at Kalimpong on Monday, and was greeted by chants of “Mamata Banerjee zindabad” and “Kalimpong zilla zindabad” as her convoy rolled up the hills via the National Highway-10 from Bagdogra airport to Kalimpong. Many gifted her the ‘khada’, a traditional silk scarf, along the route.

While speaking at the ceremony on Tuesday, she said, “We are celebrating Kalimpong Day on Valentine’s Day. Today, Lepchas, Gurungs, Bhutias and all others are living together.” However, even though the GJM has supported the formation of the new district traditionally, the party has protested the alleged sidelining of the GJM-run Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) in the setting up of Kalimpong. Mamata, meanwhile, went on to announce her party’s contribution to the hills while issuing a veiled warning to the GJM to not continue their agitation for statehood. “After the formation of GTA, I set up several boards in the Hills for better development and all are working well…The new district has been formed for ensuring better development.”

The historic demand for carving out Kalimpong as a separate district can be traced back to when the Kalimpong subdivision was ceded to British India in the course of the Sinchula Treaty in 1865, following a war between the East India Company and the army of Bhutan. Originally a part of Sikkim, it had been annexed from Sikkim by Bhutan in 1706. The hills have been witness to violent statehood movements since 1986 under the leadership of Subhas Ghising, and after a few years’ thaw, again under Gurung in a bid to break away from West Bengal. While the Ghising-led Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) had got the state government to set up the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), the GJM’s agitation had set the ball rolling for replacing DGHC with the GTA.

Mamata first announced her intention to ratify the new district on September 2016, on the basis of a plan sketched out by Harka Bahadur Chettri, who founded the Jan Andolan Party following differences with Gurung. A senior TMC leader pointed out, “Earlier, when Chettri was still in the Morcha, he was a vital link between it and the state government. But now, virtually all communication has stopped at the political level. The CM understood this and has proposed the resumption of talks to resolve issues in the past. She was referred to the Takdah bungalow arson in the past as well, because she doesn’t want a repeat of previous violence.”

But Gurung, TMC leaders said, has reasons to be worried. The new district, Mamata hopes, would also serve to neutralize Bimal Gurung and GJM’s aggressive campaigning for Gorkhaland — triggered by their performance in the 2016 Assembly elections, which on the face of it was a victory for Gurung. But its performance particularly in Kalimpong has left the party worried. Even more worrying is the string of senior party leaders including GTA chairman Pradeep Pradhan jumping ship and joining the TMC.

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