Mamata edge on poll eve

The Telegraph

Feb. 25: Mamata Banerjee’s budget today sought to consolidate the position Trinamul Congress had gained in north Bengal by announcing a slew of projects that covers both the hills and plains.

Trinamul’s Darjeeling district leader Gautam Deb said Mamata had for the first time tried to connect remote areas of the region by train. “So far, we had to depend on road connectivity to get to many areas in the region,” Deb said. “But soon, trains will take us there. It is obvious that this move will pay dividends in the coming Assembly elections.”

Trinamul already has two Assembly seats from the region — Rajganj and Dinhata — in its kitty. In 2009, the party by forming an alliance with the Congress had ousted the Left from the Siliguri Municipal Corporation after 15 years. This time, Trinamul is looking towards making more forays into north Bengal with party chief Mamata having visited the region four times after she became the railway minister in 2009.

Sujit Lama, a sales representative and a frequent traveller, said: “Now only the New Jalpaiguri-Bamanhat express runs between Cooch Behar and NJP. Another train to Dinhata was the need of the hour because even today the main mode of transport to Siliguri is bus.”

Mamata had promised a series of railway initiatives during a visit to the hills in September. Today’s announcements for Darjeeling and Kurseong were in keeping with that spirit. (See chart)

While announcing the centre of excellence in software for Darjeeling, Mamata remarked in Parliament today: “The weather of Darjeeling will be conducive to such a centre.”

Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s spokesperson Harka Bahadur Chhetri said his party was happy with the announcement. “This is the first time that Darjeeling has figured in a railway budget speech after Independence. We are also happy that a number of issues raised by our party during her last visit to Darjeeling found a mention in the budget.”

In fact, during Mamata’s visit to Darjeeling last year, the Morcha had given her a warm welcome.

According to this year’s budget, Kurseong will also have a basic training centre to cater for the needs of the Northeast Frontier Railway, including the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.

The Morcha, which is agitating for Gorkhaland, however, said their happiness should not be misconstrued as an indication of a “tacit understanding” with Trinamul.

“We are welcoming the initiatives because she is taking an effort to put Darjeeling on the railway map. We would, however, like to categorically say that our statement should not be misconstrued to hint that there is a tacit understanding between us and them,” said Chhetri.

In Siliguri, businessman Utpal Chowdhury said the railway minister’s Sukhi Griha scheme promising housing to “encroachers” on railway land was bound to earn Trinamul political dividends.

“This will definitely help her party workers here earn an extra edge over their contenders as about 2 lakh people in and around Siliguri reside on such land,” Chowdhury said.


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