Deb (wearing a cap) at a Trinamul Congress rally in Panighata on Thursday. Picture by Kundan Yolmo
Siliguri, Feb. 7: Minister Gautam Deb today appealed to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha to call off the 12-hour strike in the hills on Saturday and said the Lepcha board was formed to uplift the tribal community, not to undermine the GTA.
The Morcha has called the shutdown to protest the formation of the board under the state government and said the body would divide the hill population on communal lines.
“The Lepcha development board cannot be compared with the GTA Sabha. The GTA has been formed with the assent of the President and the governor, while the Lepcha board’s launch was on the basis of a state cabinet decision,” Deb told journalists at Panighata, 35km from Siliguri.
“The chief minister has visited the hills not less than 12 times in the past 18 months to assess the situation and met cross-sections of people, including the Lepchas and Buddhists. The Lepchas had resorted to movements like hunger strikes, demanding conservation of their culture and language. So, the chief minister, who provides space to all communities, agreed to form a board for the Lepchas,” he said.
Deb was at Panighata in Mirik block to address a public meeting organised by Trinamul. The party had held its first meeting at the same place on June 11 last year. Today’s was the second meeting of Trinamul.
The minister said the hill leaders should refrain from disruptions and call off the 12-hour bandh.
“The Lepcha board will never stand in the way of the GTA Sabha’s functioning. The GTA representatives have been elected by common people to ensure the development of the hills. Both the GTA and the state government have responsibilities and we, on behalf of the state government, are meeting people’s expectations. The hill leaders, we feel, should also function in the same manner and refrain from such strikes, which would affect the Darjeeling hills,” Deb said.
The Trinamul leader hoped that better sense would prevail at the end.
“In a democracy, every political party has the right to call a strike. But when leaders are holding responsible positions (in the GTA), they need to act sensibly. We are optimistic that good sense will prevail among them and the strike would be withdrawn. There is a section of people who have vested interests and don’t want to see the hills smile. These people would ultimately not succeed in their vile intentions,” said the minister.
At the meeting attended by around 200 Trinamul supporters, the minister harped on the development projects being taken up by the state government in the hills. The Morcha refused comment on the Trinamul meeting and the minister’s appeal. “We would prefer not to comment on it,” Morcha spokesperson Harka Bahadur Chhetri said.