Calcutta, Aug. 23: Mamata Banerjee is taking to the heart of Darjeeling her campaign to keep Bengal united in an audacious gamble reminiscent of an initiative by Rajiv Gandhi in 1986.
The chief minister today called up from Guwahati senior officials in Writers’ Buildings to tell them to organise her stay in Darjeeling from September 10 to 12.
“The chief minister wants the Lepcha development board’s felicitation programme at Darjeeling’s Chowrasta. She has asked the officials to prepare the itinerary accordingly,” an official said.
The visit will be an acid test for the chief minister who has vowed to act “rough and tough” if Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leaders continue with their agitation for a separate state.
The Lepchas have sent an invitation to Mamata to felicitate her for setting up a development board. The Lepchas were planning to hold the programme in Siliguri or in Kalimpong where the community has a sizeable presence.
But Mamata’s directive today suggests she wants the programme to be held in Darjeeling. “She is the chief minister of the whole of Bengal and she wants to send the message that no one can dictate terms to her,” said a Trinamul leader.
According to sources in the government, Mamata will leave for Darjeeling on September 10 and attend the programme the following day at Chowrasta. “She also has plans to hold a meeting of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) the same day,” said an official.
Since Morcha president Bimal Gurung stepped down as the chief executive officer of the GTA on July 30, the autonomous body formed after a tripartite agreement has remained headless. He indicated that the Morcha would not immediately demand that the GTA be scrapped.
Mamata has also instructed the district administration to start repairing National Highway 55 or Hill Cart Road, which connects Siliguri and Darjeeling. The hill residents have been demanding the highway’s repair since October 2011 when Mamata went to Darjeeling after taking over as chief minister.
The Morcha is yet to decide on its strategy if Mamata goes ahead with her trip.
“If the present stalemate continues and arrests take place, peaceful protests will take place. If the state and Centre together show any inclination for holding talks, there may not be any protests,” said a Morcha source.
During a visit to Darjeeling in December 1986, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi faced an empty ground at St. Joseph’s School (North Point) as the then ruling hill party, the GNLF, had given a call for a bandh to press for its statehood demand.
Nevertheless, Rajiv Gandhi delivered a 20-minute speech before an audience made of a clutch of journalists and numerous security personnel.