Darjeeling, Sept. 27: Mamata Banerjee today announced a bouquet of projects for the Darjeeling hills including a secretariat in the hill town, accepting almost all the demands made by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha — even adding to them — but insisting that “the hills and the plains work” together.
She underlined her stand to keep the state united — a message aimed at both the hills and her critics in the plains — while accepting most of the development demands of the Morcha (see chart).
Addressing a gathering at the Darjeeling station this afternoon, Mamata, who was on a two-day visit to the hills, said: “Right now I am only looking after one small place (railway ministry). If I happen to be in a position to give more, I will give more. Trust me as I trust you also. I am ready to give my blood for you.”
But aware of the adverse fallout that any hint of support for a separate Gorkha state could have on her vote bank in the plains, Mamata made it clear that the people of the hills and the plains would have to work together for Bengal.
“There should be no fighting, no divide between the hills and the plains,” Mamata said at the meet, packed with Morcha supporters.
“The people of the hills and the plains have to work together. I am ready to negotiate for the hill people at any forum. Today, in Darjeeling, as a Bengali I am a minority, but I will be a majority in Calcutta. Similarly, there are other minorities in the state like Biharis and Punjabis. But this is a heritage of the country and we believe in integrity. The hill people also believe in integrity. No one wants violence.”
Mamata said she had her “own plans” to make the hills and the plains interact in harmony.
“I have a lot of idea for Darjeeling in my mind but since I am not in a position right now, it is all locked up in my brain. But when I get the place (the state government) I will tell you all the ideas. A secretariat of the state government will be set up in Darjeeling.”
In making her announcement of a secretariat in Darjeeling, Mamata has gone a step ahead of Siddhartha Shankar Ray, who as chief minister used to shift his office to the hills for a brief period every summer.
“Siddhartha Shankar Ray had picked up from where the British had left off so as to strengthen the ties between the administration and the common people in the hills,” said former PCC chief Pradip Bhattacharjee, who used to be the minister of state for labour in Ray’s cabinet. “Every summer senior officials of the chief minister’s secretariat would shift to the hills for a brief period, which could be from a week to a fortnight, sometimes even longer, and even cabinet meetings would be held there.”
Although some attributed the shift to the cooler climes in the hills, others pointed out that the move did ensure interaction between the local populace and some wings of the administration.
However, no permanent secretariat used to be set up in Ray’s days, which Mamata has promised to do in case she becomes the next chief minister.
The lieutenant governor of Bengal used to shift his office to Darjeeling every summer during the British Raj.
Promising a “special package” for Darjeeling, Mamata said she would meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the Commonwealth Games and request him to put the package in place.
“Here, the people have suffered a lot but they should not suffer any longer,” Mamata said. “Bundelkhand, Telengana, Darjeeling, Jangal Mahal, all these places need a special package.”
She also assured the hill people that they would be entitled to their rights.
“People here are agitating for jobs, industry, development and creation of better infrastructure. The people are agitating for their rights and you will definitely get your rights.”
The railway minister opted not to take any sides while dealing with issues concerning the hill’s political parties. While she maintained that she wanted the murderers of ABGL leader Madan Tamang to be arrested, she also backed the demand that “an arrested person” should be produced in court. She was referring to the Morcha’s demand that Nickole Tamang, a prime accused in Tamang murder, who allegedly fled from CID custody, be produced in court. The Morcha suspects that Nickole died in custody and the government was trying to cover it up.
It was only the CPM which was in Mamata’s line of fire. “While coming up from Siliguri I read a few CPM posters which said that I was going to the hills to foment trouble. But it is they who foment trouble everywhere.”
In Calcutta, CPM state secretary Biman Bose today said Mamata is “hobnobbing”’ with the Morcha that was demanding statehood for Darjeeling was proof of her party’s tilt towards a division of Bengal.
“We now find the Trinamul leader visiting the hills to hold talks with the Morcha,” Bose said today. “All this makes it clear that the Trinamul Congress is in favour of a division of Bengal.”
Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri said his party was “happy” with Mamata’s announcements.