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North, thanks and see you soon

Feb. 24: Mamata Banerjee has returned a favour to north Bengal, announcing an axle factory, five new trains, nine hospitals and six other healthcare centres and several other initiatives in the region.

The north Bengal package is being seen as a sign of her “gratitude” for letting the Trinamul Congress break into the region during the Siliguri civic polls last year. Although the Congress and the CPM eventually got together to thwart Trinamul’s efforts to form the board, Mamata had the satisfaction of ending a 28-year-old Left monopoly there.

The budget proposals also reflected the Trinamul chief’s eagerness to firm up the new bond ahead of the coming municipal polls and next year’s Assembly elections.

After the defeat of the CPM in the “red bastion”, Mamata had declared her “gratefulness” to the people and announced that the “winds of change” were now blowing across north Bengal, too.

“We don’t think north Bengal had ever got such priority in rail budgets. Our leader has shown her concern for the region and has bestowed a series of facilities on people living in this part of the state. Her announcements are bound to have a positive impact,” said Gautam Deb, the core committee chairman of Trinamul in north Bengal.

The Trinamul headquarters has instructed the leaders in north Bengal to quickly launch a campaign on Mamata’s “generosity” and “love” for the people of the region ahead of the municipal elections, expected to be held in May. Except for the North and South Dinajpurs and Darjeeling, civic elections will be held in all other north Bengal districts.

“We have to reap the dividends from this and spread the influence of the party to other parts of north Bengal as well,” a Trinamul leader said.

Local Trinamul leaders have been told that after being “betrayed” by the Congress during the formation of the Siliguri municipal board, it must emerge as the stronger partner. The Congress had refused to part with the post of the Siliguri mayor, a demand Trinamul had made.

“It is time for an image makeover,” the Trinamul leader said. “Traditionally, the Congress has been seen as much stronger than Trinamul in north Bengal. But it is time to change that perception and what better tool to use than this budget bounty?”

However, a section of Congress leadership in north Bengal has felt “let down”.

Abu Hashem Khan Choudhury, the Congress MP from Malda South and brother of former railway minister A.B.A. Ghani Khan Choudhury, said from Delhi: “We are not at all satisfied with the rail budget. Malda has been ignored in the budget even though we had asked for two super-fast trains to Delhi and Calcutta.”

But Babla Sarkar, the Malda Trinamul district president, brushed aside the allegations. “The criticism is weak as Malda got a training centre, two passenger trains and hospitals. Further, the development of New Farakka will benefit the people of this district,” he said.

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