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Monday, June 27, 2022

Party adrift in Bengal, some BJP leaders keep statehood demands simmering

The saffron party has clarified that it does not support the state’s division.

Written by Santanu Chowdhury | Kolkata |
Updated: May 26, 2022 12:35:09 pm
BJP's Bishnupur MP Saumitra Khan.

On the back foot since losing the Assembly elections last year, some BJP leaders in West Bengal have taken to raising statehood demands much to the party’s chagrin. The latest such comment came from the party’s Bishnupur MP Saumitra Khan who, on Monday, raised the demand for West Bengal’s Jangalmahal area (comprising the districts of Bankura, Purulia, Paschim Medinipur, and Jhargram) to be granted statehood.

Khan, whose constituency is in Bankura, said at a press conference at the party’s district headquarters that Birbhum and Paschim Bardhaman district’s Asansol sub-division should be also included in this separate state. The MP hit out at the Trinamool Congress (TMC)-led state government for neglecting the region where Maoists once held sway.

“Recently, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that her government wants to increase the number of districts in the state,” said the MP. “Then this demand for a separate state for Jangalmahal area is also justified. The state government has deprived the people of this area in every aspect. There has been no proper development. Sand, stones, and other raw materials from this region are being used to construct houses in Kolkata and other parts of the state. But the people of Bankura, Purulia, Paschim Medinipur, Jhargram, Birbhum, and Asansol are being deprived every day. They do not have jobs. If a separate state is created, then people here will get better service.”

The TMC is seeking to increase the number of districts for administrative purposes — to ensure better delivery of schemes and better maintain law and order — and to accelerate the party’s expansion with the aim of curbing infighting.

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Demands from north Bengal

This is not the first time Khan has raised the demand for Jangalmahal to be made a separate state. He had done it last June too while his party colleague and Alipurduars MP John Barla called for north Bengal to be turned into a separate state or be granted the status of a Union Territory to ensure the region’s infrastructural development. At the time, the party’s Kurseong MLA Bishnu Prasad Sharma demanded the separation of Darjeeling Hills from West Bengal.

In April, citing the state government’s order on early summer vacation in schools because of a heatwave, the BJP’s Siliguri MLA Sankar Ghosh said schools in north Bengal need not be shut as the region was experiencing “pleasant weather” while earlier this month the BJP legislators from Matigara-Naxalbari and Dabgram-Phulbari, Anandamay Barman and Shikha Chatterjee, spoke in favour of making north Bengal a Union Territory.

With panchayat polls scheduled for the next year, these demands are being seen as these BJP leaders’ attempt to keep the party in the conversation and connect with people. In north Bengal, the leaders are seeking to tap into sentiment for separate states that has always existed in the region. The demand for a state for Gorkhas comprising the Darjeeling Hills and parts of the Dooars and Siliguri Terai regions began as a violent movement in the 1980s, while the Koch Rajbongshi community, a Scheduled Caste group, raised the Kamptapur demand in 1995. The proposed state covers seven of North Bengal’s eight districts, including Cooch Behar, where the movement is centred, as well as Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Dhubri, and Goalpara districts in Assam; Kishanganj in Bihar; and Jhapa in Nepal.

The Greater Cooch Behar People’s Association’s (GCPA) general secretary Bangshi Badan Barman raised the demand for a separate state in 1998. The proposed state of Greater Cooch Behar comprises seven districts of north Bengal along with Assam’s Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon and Dhubri.

Not our stand: BJP

But despite its leaders’ frequent comments, the BJP says it does not support the calls for separate states, be it in Jangalmahal or north Bengal. Last year, when Barla and Khan first raised their demands, the party’s central leadership asked them to desist from making such remarks. According to party insiders, BJP president J P Nadda himself met Khan at the time in New Delhi to caution him. The state BJP president at the time, Dilip Ghosh, also made it clear that his party does not support the division of West Bengal even though he initially appeared to defend Barla and Khan.

Referring to the trauma of the colonial attempt to partition Bengal at the beginning of the 20th century, senior state leader Rahul Sinha said during last year’s controversy, “Rabindranath Tagore had started Raksha Bandhan to protest against the partition of Bengal. Since then, the occasion has had historical and cultural values. It has political and geographical significance as the occasion was celebrated to keep people and the province united. A conspiracy to divide Bengal must not be entertained.”

On Tuesday, referring to Khan’s latest comments, BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya told The Indian Express, “It is not our party’s stand. We do not want to see the state getting divided anymore. What he said is his personal opinion. He might have said it out of passion. It is true that the region he is talking about has lacked development. This is due to bad governance by both Left Front and TMC governments. But that does not mean we should divide the state. We are not in favour of a division of the state. It is also not viable to divide the state.”

The ruling party hit out at the BJP over Khan’s remarks. “The BJP has been trying to fan separatism across the state and is plotting to divide West Bengal to reap political gains. But we will never allow that to happen,” said senior TMC MLA Tapas Roy.
Ruling party leader Joy Prakash Majumdar said, “After (Barrackpore MP) Arjun Singh’s exit from the BJP, Saumitra Khan is now trying to get importance in the party. He wants to hog the limelight. This kind of statement has no takers. These are baseless demands without any relevance.”

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