Kalimpong, Aug. 26: Mamata Banerjee’s insistence that she be felicitated in Darjeeling for forming a development board for the Lepchas has put the community in the soup as they apprehend that this may drive a wedge between the community and the Gorkhas in the hills.
The chief minister is scheduled to be in Darjeeling from September 10 to 12 and wants the Lepcha Development Board’s felicitation to be held at Chowrastha in town.
The Lepchas had taken a decision to felicitate the chief minister for setting up the development board much before the fresh Gorkhaland agitation was launched in July-end. They had decided to hold the programme in Siliguri, but the chief minister now wants the event to be shifted to Chowrastha in the wake of the renewed statehood agitation.
Mamata’s choice has led many to believe that she is planning to send the “united Bengal” message that she had delivered from the same venue earlier this year to a massive Morcha outcry. But a senior Lepcha member said: “We fear the chief minister’s insistence on holding the felicitation in Darjeeling may convey the message that the hill society is divided.”
While the Lepcha leadership has been avoiding the media for quite some time now, conversations with cross-sections of the community clearly suggest that there is definite unease about the entire situation.
“The chief minister is deserving of our collective thanks for forming the board. However, if the programme is held in Darjeeling town the message that it may convey is not desirable. I am certain this fact is not lost on the Lepcha leadership as well,” said another Lepcha resident.
The Lepchas constitute about 20 per cent of the population in the hills.
The formation of the Lepcha board under the state backward classes welfare department didn’t go down well with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha which wanted the body to be brought under the GTA Sabha. The Lepchas had even gone on a hunger strike to condemn the opposition to the board in the hills.
The Morcha is yet to decide on what strategy to follow in the event of the felicitation taking place in the hills. But a senior leader of the party said there would be a possibility that the Morcha would allow the programme to take place and ensure a no-show by the Lepchas.
“In 1986, the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had to address an empty North Point ground in Darjeeling, following a boycott call by the GNLF. In the same manner, the Morcha could also appeal to the Lepchas to stay away from the felicitation. This would not only deal a blow to Mamata’s divide-and-rule policy, but will also boomerang on her badly,” said the leader.
ABGL vice-president Pratap Khati, on the other hand, said too much attention shouldn’t be given to a mere felicitation programme, whether it was held in Darjeeling or elsewhere.
“Let the event take place. We wholly support the formation of the Lepcha board. The Gorkhas and the Lepchas have been living as one for generations, and we should continue to sustain that relationship. Neither the Gorkhas nor the Lepchas should fall victims to the politics of Mamata,” he said.