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23 Jun 2017

BJP whiff in letter by Chamling

AVIJIT SINHA, TT, Siliguri, June 22: Pawan Chamling, the Sikkim chief minister and an NDA ally, has requested the Union home ministry to create a Gorkhaland state.
This is the first time that the elected head of any state government has formally echoed the demand. Sikkim depends on a lifeline national highway that passes through the districts of Darjeeling and Kalimpong and comes under threat when strikes are called in the hills.
The letter from Chamling to Union home minister Rajnath Singh is dated June 20, the day junior home minister Kiren Rijiju had attended a dinner hosted by the chief minister in Gangtok. The letter was sent today.
A delegation of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, another BJP ally spearheading the hill agitation, had also met Rijiju. The meeting came at a time the BJP, which is walking a tightrope between the plains and the hills in Bengal, is finding itself under fire in Darjeeling for its cautious stand.
A Union home ministry official expressed surprise at the letter and described it as a "political statement".
Sources close to Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said the state government was likely to send a letter to Rajnath to register its protest against the manner in which the Sikkim chief minister has echoed the Morcha's demand.
"Isn't this an interference in the affairs of another state?
We will protest officially," said a source close to the Bengal chief minister.
As chief secretary Basudeb Banerjee is with Mamata who is in The Hague for a UN programme, home secretary Moloy De is expected to send the letter.
"The chief minister (Mamata) thinks that Chamling's support to the Morcha is the handiwork of the Centre and that's why Rijiju had visited the state last week. Morcha leaders met him there and it's clear that something was planned during that meeting," the source added.
Chamling's Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) is an NDA ally. The official reason for Rijiju's presence in Gangtok from Tuesday was the International Day of Yoga that was celebrated yesterday.
Chamling's letter to the Union home minister said: "The fulfilment of the constitutional demand of the people in the Darjeeling Hills, which is deeply connected with the national identity of the Indian Gorkhas, will provide long-awaited justice to their patriotism, which has been second to none. Creation of Gorkhaland state will also restore permanent peace and prosperity to the region and Sikkim will be hugely benefited as her developmental tempo can be maintained undisturbed."
The letter refers to the problems faced by Sikkim on NH10 - the highway that connects the state with the rest of the country and moves through the districts of Darjeeling and Kalimpong - during the agitation. In 2011, the Sikkim Legislative Assembly had passed a resolution and sent it to the Centre, seeking a "pertinent solution to the pressing and longstanding problem of the people of Darjeeling Hills".
Bhim Dahal, the spokesperson for the SDF, told The Telegraph: "We held a meeting at the party headquarters in Gangtok today. At the meeting, we resolved to support the demand of Gorkhaland."
The Sikkim chief minister's letter also underscored the strategic location of Sikkim. "With three international borders with China (Tibet), Bhutan and Nepal, the potential danger posed by such a sustained agitation in the neighbouring hills to the peace of Sikkim cannot be ruled out," the letter said.
Choosing his words carefully since another state was involved, Bengal minister and Trinamul leader Partha Chatterjee said: "We expect that any other state should act in a more responsible manner. All of us are within the purview of the Indian Constitution and should be aware of our responsibilities."
But a Trinamul leader based in Siliguri said: "Being an ally of the BJP and knowing well that the party is in support of smaller states, the chief minister of Sikkim and his party might have made the move to mount pressure on the Bengal government. As our chief minister has unequivocally said, we are completely against the division of Bengal. The Morcha, which is also an ally of the BJP, is getting support from another ally."
"In case we find that it is a political ploy against Trinamul and the state government, and that the BJP is involved, we will launch a state-wide movement highlighting that the BJP is trying to use its allies with the intention of dividing the state," he added.
Morcha leaders expressed happiness. "We welcome the initiative taken by the chief minister of Sikkim. Support for the demand is coming from different parts of the country," said Binay Tamang, the assistant general secretary of the Morcha.
"We have received support from the National Federation for New States and rallies in favour of Gorkhaland were held in Mumbai and the Bodo districts in Assam today. Similar rallies were held in Delhi, Ranchi and Bangalore and other places of the country in the past few days," Tamang added.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VIVEK CHHETRI IN DARJEELING AND IMRAN AHMED SIDDIQUI IN NEW DELH

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