Aug. 29: Mamata Banerjee today announced she would attend a Lepcha-organised felicitation programme in Kalimpong on September 3, her first visit to the hills since the latest phase of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-led statehood agitation began last month.
“I will go to Kalimpong on September 2 to attend a Lepcha event on September 3,” the chief minister said at Writers’ this afternoon.
In a Facebook post on August 20, Mamata had said she would go to Darjeeling in the first week of September but had not specified the dates or whether she planned to visit Darjeeling town or the district, of which Kalimpong is a part.
Officials in the chief minister’s secretariat had, however, said Mamata had instructed them to make arrangements for the programme in Darjeeling town’s Chowrasta between September 10 and 12.
Writers’ sources said today that two reasons had prompted the selection of Kalimpong as the venue.
“The chief minister did not want to further provoke the situation in the hills by ensuring that the felicitation is held in Darjeeling, the heart of the Gorkhaland movement,” a senior bureaucrat said.
He added that the Lepchas were reluctant to organise the event in Darjeeling as they feared it would drive a wedge between the community and the Gorkhas. “Moreover, the Lepchas have a strong presence in Kalimpong.”
Mamata today blamed “vested interests” for disrupting peace in the hills. “The situation was peaceful (after the GTA agreement). Some vested interests are disturbing peace in the name of Telangana. We want to see development in the hills. Every time before Lok Sabha polls, the Congress and the BJP are at play, vying for that one seat (Darjeeling),” the chief minister said.
Morcha leader Jyoti Kumar Rai, however, said the agitation was “not about one Lok Sabha seat, but about our identity and we want the support of all national and regional parties on this issue”.
Mamata said the election of the GTA Sabha chief executive would take place on September 4. “We could have placed a nominated member on top, but why should we? There are so many elected members, let one of them be elected to the post,” she said.
After Morcha chief Bimal Gurung resigned as the GTA chief executive in July, the party had wanted a nominated member to succeed him.
Although Mamata has always played down the significance of the use of the word Gorkhaland in the GTA, she today said: “They (Morcha) wanted the word Gorkhaland in the name of the GTA, we did that too. We made the GTA for them, included the word Gorkhaland and gave them what they needed for development. But we cannot give in to demands for a separate state. I will not budge from my stand. Bengal will not be divided. A separate state is not possible.”