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Trinamul pulls out of GTA poll fray

Calcutta, July 21: Mamata Banerjee today announced the withdrawal of all 17 Trinamul candidates for the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration polls, paving the way for the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha to win all but one of the 45 seats uncontested.

“We have decided that our 17 nominees will pull out of the GTA elections. We are putting the interests of the hills and the state above political interest. We don’t want a confrontation with the Morcha. We shall build a new Darjeeling, a new Bengal. Sometimes, sacrifices are required in larger interests,” the chief minister said at the Trinamul martyrs’ day rally at Esplanade.

Morcha MLAs Harka Bahadur Chhetri and Rohit Sharma, who were present at the rally, thanked Mamata with folded hands.

Bimal Gurung, the president of the hill party, had earlier expressed his unhappiness at Trinamul’s decision to contest the July 29 polls.

After the Trinamul chief’s gesture today, Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri said in Darjeeling: “We are grateful to Mamata Banerjee for this. It has created the right atmosphere.”

Before making the announcement, Mamata asked railway minister and Trinamul general secretary Mukul Roy and north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb to escort the Morcha MLAs from their seats on the dais to the podium.

A section of the crowd at the Trinamul martyrs’ day rally at Esplanade on Saturday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal

“We had decided to contest the GTA polls because we love democracy. (But) we want to improve our ties with the Morcha. For their sake and for the sake of the GTA, we are withdrawing from the fray,” the chief minister said. Mamata had invited the Morcha to attend Trinamul’s annual event.

Addressing the rally earlier, Chhetri had spoken about working with the government and praised Mamata for visiting the hills frequently.

“We fought with Bengal for 34 years since no minister, not to speak of the chief minister, ever visited the hills. Mamataji has come to the hills more than eight times since becoming chief minister. We believe that as long as Mamata Banerjee is chief minister and the Trinamul government is in power, we would be one. We will walk together, work together and reach our goals together,” the Kalimpong MLA said.

The CPM had earlier withdrawn all its candidates citing “intimidation” by the Morcha. All other hill parties have boycotted the polls. With Trinamul announcing its decision not to contest, only one rebel candidate is now holding fort against the Morcha.

Mamata said she would attend the swearing-in of the GTA Sabha on August 4. She has requested Union home minister P. Chidambaram and governor M.K. Narayanan to attend the event.

Trinamul sources said the “peaceful conclusion” of the GTA episode was a “major triumph” for the chief minister. “From the beginning, she has been trying to solve the problems in the hills. She repeatedly visited the region and announced development projects,” a party leader said.

The sources said Mamata’s decision to leave the field for the Morcha would help the ruling party in the long run.

“Having the Morcha as an ally in the hills will help us in the future. In the next Lok Sabha elections, Mamata can request the Morcha to rally behind the Trinamul candidate from Darjeeling considering the development she is bringing to the hills,” the Trinamul leader said.

Facebook ire

Satadru Roy, a Congress cyber cell member and Kasba resident, lodged a police diary accusing Trinamul activists of threatening to kill him for criticising Mamata on Facebook. Roy had said power minister Manish Gupta was allowed to attend the martyrs’ day rally even though he was home secretary when 13 Youth Congress workers were killed in police firing in 1993.