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24 Apr 2017

Wait for leaders' trips - Mamata and Shah to visit north Bengal this week

A stage being erected in Cooch Behar for the chief minister’s visit. Picture by Main Uddin Chisti
AVIJIT SINHA, TT, Siliguri, April 23: Trinamul and BJP leaders in north Bengal are all set to make the best use of next few days when Mamata Banerjee and Amit Shah will be in the region where both the parties have been trying to penetrate certain pockets.
While the chief minister will arrive here tomorrow on a five-day official trip to the districts of Cooch Behar and Alipurduar, the BJP president will reach Siliguri on Tuesday for one-day tour.
Shah will hold a meeting with workers of a booth in Naxalbari block, visit five houses and speak to families and apprise them of the BJP's programmes. Later in the evening, he will attend an intellectuals' meet at the indoor stadium here.
The decision of the BJP to choose Siliguri that is under Darjeeling district for the party chief's programme is significant, say observers.
"Darjeeling is the first Parliament seat that the BJP won in Bengal in 2009. Further, Darjeeling is the only district where Trinamul has not been able to make much headway as far as winning in the elections are concerned. Also, the BJP has its ally Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in the hills, which is busy taking on Trinamul in civic polls. All these, put together, show that the visit is significant," an observer said.
According to BJP insiders, the party is all set to pit itself as the principal opponent of Trinamul and so, focusing on "existing pockets" or areas where it has already consolidated substantial support base. One such area is Darjeeling district, where it has the Morcha as an ally.
In north Bengal, some other such pockets are in the districts of Cooch Behar, Alipurduar and Malda.
It is here that Mamata is planning to step. The idea is to prevent the BJP from gaining strength in other parts of the state's north.
On one hand, Mamata has put consistent efforts to stop the Morcha in its tracks. Trinamul leaders have gone all out to secure majority in hill municipalities. On the other hand, she has taken the task of visiting Alipurduar and Cooch Behar districts and present benefits under different welfare schemes to people in areas where the BJP is steadily increasing its support base.
During her visit, she will also hold administrative review meetings and sit with party leaders of both the districts.
"One of the factions of Rajbangshis who demand the separate state of Cooch Behar has allied with the BJP. The Rajbangshis had earlier expressed disappointment that the chief minister was focusing on the hills and not listening to their demands. We have realised that the grievances of Rajbangshis need to be addressed to win their support and so, the state has announced that it intends to recognise the Rajbangshi language," a Trinamul leader in Cooch Behar said.
Asked about the BJP president's visit, Trinamul leaders said they were not giving much attention to it.
"Leaders of any political party can hold programmes anywhere in the state. But people of Bengal will never pay heed to the BJP. We don't think such visits would have any effect on the electorate of Siliguri and surrounding areas," Gautam Deb, the Darjeeling district Trinamul president, said.
State BJP leaders, on the other hand, are enthusiastic about the trip.
Pratap Banerjee, the Bengal BJP general secretary and in charge of north Bengal, said: "Mamata Banerjee and Trinamul are fast losing base in north Bengal. She has become totally directionless. She is making desperate attempts to retain mass base through multiple visits to Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Darjeeling and Siliguri."
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SANDIP CHOWDHURY IN CALCUTTA

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