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26 Jul 2017

‘Darjeeling may turn into BJP’s exit route from Bengal’

TNN | Jul 26, 2017, KOLKATA: KOLKATA: Raging sentiments in the Hills, that sparked from the Bengal government's proposal to introduce Bengali in Hills schools, have gained momentum in the last 40 days leading to a shift in the pro-Gorkhaland stir from West Bengal to Delhi. Feeling let down by the BJP-led Centre's silence, the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee will meet in Delhi on August 1 before they hit the streets in the capital.
"BJP made an entry in Bengal through the Hills when it was in the opposition. Neither Jaswant Singh nor S S Ahluwaliah could have won without support of the Hills people. If the ruling BJP continues to ditch us, Darjeeling might turn into its exit route from Bengal as well," said Jan Andolan Party leader and former Kalimpong MLA Harka Bahadur Chhetri. "BJP MP Ahluwaliah had advocated Gorkhaland during his election campaign. The party has consistently campaigned for smaller states. Now that it has a majority in Parliament and is eyeing Bengal, it is hesitant to take up our legitimate constitutional demand under Article 3 of the Constitution. Its political dream has come in the way of initiating a dialogue with the Hills representatives. Hills people feel cheated. They will not take this lying down," Chhetri said.
Chhetri may sound unreasonable when BJP has public representatives in Malda's Baishnabnagar in north Bengal and Asansol and Kharagpur in south Bengal other than Birbhum, Howrah and Basirhat, where it is a force to reckon with. It goes without saying that the party without the GJM's backing has little prospects in as many as six assembly segments in the Hills — Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong, Madarihat in Alipurduar, Phansidewa, Matigara-Naxalbari — and Siliguri in the foothills.
Hills leaders are not in a mood to accept the worries expressed at various quarters over the viability of Gorkhaland. "The Constitution doesn't mention the minimum geographical area a new state should have. The President may ask the Parliament to draft a Bill on the Centre's advice like it did in the case of Telangana. How many MPs does neighbouring Sikkim have? How are they managing things? On the contrary, Darjeeling has a store of wealth in the form of tea gardens and cinchona plantations since the the days of the Raj, apart from tourism. How much the money is spent on the Hills? When I was an MLA in 2015, the total budget for Bengal was Rs 39,000 crore, of which a meagre Rs 178 crore was allocated for the Hills in Plan expenditure and Rs 500 crore in the non-Plan," Chhetri said.
The JAP leader then turned towards Bengal's income from the Hills to buttress his point that Gorkhaland was economically viable. "Going by the recent submission of the state government in Calcutta high court, the state suffered a loss of Rs 150 crore in the first 10 days of movement. The state estimated the damage of government property at Rs 20 crore. The remaining Rs 130 crore was on the account of loss in tea trade and tourism. A little number-crunching takes the projected loss to Rs 390 crore a month, and Rs 4,680 crore a year," Chhetri added.
Chhetri acknowledges the problems that India is facing at Doko La but says it should not stop the Narendra Modi government from initiating a dialogue on the Hills. "Gorkhas have a long history of fighting for the nation. They have never conspired against the country or joined hands with extremist forces. So what prevents them from taking the dialogue route with the Hills people when the initiative has to come from the Centre, and not from the state government?" Chhetri said.

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