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4 Jun 2017

Political roads lead to hills - BJP and Mamata head to north Bengal, Morcha lines up protests

AVIJIT SINHA and VIVEK CHHETRI, TT,  June 3: The epicentre of Bengal politics seems to have shifted to the north.
The state government's decision to make Bengali compulsory in schools has given the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha a chance to launch a renewed protest in the hills, at a time national and state BJP leaders are touring the north Bengal districts to consolidate a support base. And if that wasn't enough, Mamata Banerjee, too, will be in the hills for five weeks from Monday.
Apart from the GTA elections scheduled in July, there are no major polls lined up in this part of the state.
"Mamata Banerjee has visited the hills and north Bengal at least on 50 occasions in the past six years.... But the political situation was never such intense as it has been recently," a political observer said.
Earlier, Morcha leaders have scoffed at the chief minister's visits and criticised her over several issues. But this is the first time they have launched an agitation that is likely to coincide with her visit.
The presence of BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya is likely to add a new dimension to the battle for north Bengal. Along with a number of state BJP leaders, Vijayvargiya reached the region three days ago and will stay for another one or two days.
"He is regularly visiting the rural areas, talking to BJP workers and supporters who have complained attacks by Trinamul, issuing deadlines to administration to act against the attackers and criticising the government and the ruling party. The BJP seems to be active here," said a political science professor in North Bengal University.
Trinamul insiders said the party's activities had come down considerably in north Bengal after the 2016 Assembly polls.
"Now that the BJP is intensifying its campaign in the area, we have to take up a number of political activities," said a Trinamul leader in Alipurduar.
According to political observers, Mamata is expected to boost the morale of party leaders in Cooch Behar, where the BJP has made significant advances. Sources said the chief minister's renewed focus on north Bengal was the fallout of Trinamul's win in the Mirik municipality and the party gaining a toehold in other hill civic bodies.
In the hills, the Morcha leaders have geared up over the government's decision on Bengali, probably realising that it is their last chance to stop the Trinamul juggernaut, sources said.
After observing a strike in hill schools on June 1 and 2, the Morcha is preparing for a rally tomorrow, a day before Mamata reaches Bagdogra.
While the Morcha is trying to win back its base through protests against the language issue, local Trinamul leaders tried to make their presence felt with a rally in Darjeeling today. They highlighted the Madan Tamang murder case, and demanded that the ABGL leader's family "get justice".

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