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Quiet but sudden shot at 'fame'

Sept. 21: Its rise has been quiet but meteoric.

The Greater Cooch Behar People's Association was formed as a small ragtag unit back in 1998, six years after its secretary, Bangsibadan Barman, graduated with Bengali Honours from Dinhata College where he was an SFI activist. He, however, was more of a CPM supporter than an active cadre.

Seven years later, the outfit has mustered so much support that it could actually lead a flare-up, which killed five persons, including three policemen, yesterday.

'We are an association comprising very humble people. We are not violent,' Barman said. Almost all people in the 21-member central committee have very innocuous backgrounds.

The leadership profile of the association, which claims it has supporters of different political affinities, is not impressive. Barman, 37, ekes out a living by conducting private coaching classes and tending to the several bighas of land he and his two brothers share. Asutosh Barman, the cultural secretary of the association, used to run a small private primary school and is now a small farmer.

Back in December 26, 2000, the association had written to the President, Prime Minister, the Union home minister and the West Bengal governor demanding that Cooch Behar be granted the status of a Union Territory, which its members believed was mentioned in the treaty of accession signed between the government of India and Maharaja Jagatddipendra Narayan in 1949.

Rashtrapati Bhavan sent them a letter dated March 16, 2001, asking them to contact the Union home ministry. Encouraged by the response, Barman along with a five-member team met officials of the Union home ministry and handed over a letter requesting a meeting to discuss the issue. That negotiation is yet to take place.

While the outfit claims that it has no links with the factional Kamtapur People's Party (KPP) or the militant Kamtapur Liberation Organisation , political parties like the Forward Bloc and CPM have been claiming openly that the association does have ties with these 'divisive' groups.

Of late the association had been gaining in strength with villagers donating money. They had been told that a separate state would bring an end to their plight. On June 18 this year, a massive crowd of over half a lakh choked Cooch Behar town and created a problem for the administration.

Political observers claim that the association has benefited from the split in the KPP, with a substantial section of the Rajbanshi people, especially in Cooch Behar where the KPP's grassroots network has considerably decayed, joining them.

Nikhil Roy, one of the leaders of the KPP faction, said: 'We must admit that our support base has eroded in Cooch Behar and we must accept it.'

'The Greater Cooch Behar People's Association is fighting for the same cause as us. After yesterday's incident the-ir popularity will increase,' said Atul Roy, the leader of KPP's other faction.

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