Trinamul leaders and workers led by minister Gautam Deb take out a peace rally on Hill Cart Road in Siliguri on Thursday. Picture by Kundan Yolmo
Siliguri, Jan. 2: North Bengal development minister Gautam Deb today gave the first clear warning to the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) that the government would “crush” any statehood agitation.
Deb, the state government’s seniormost leader in north Bengal, had yesterday also said that the state did not favour such movements, but today his tone was aggressive.
“Jara bandh deke, bicchinotabad choranor chesta korbe, tader bhenge guriye dewa hobe (Those who call bandhs to spread the message of separatism, we will crush them),” Deb said in Siliguri before a peace march with over 1,000 Trinamul supporters.
“Let us be very clear and straight. The state will not tolerate any movement over the demand of statehood in any part of north Bengal. Whether it is taken up by any party, organisation or outfit, we will initiate administrative and political steps to counter such demands. Those who intend to spread tension in the name of such separatist movements by launching terror attacks would be crushed. The state has a zero-tolerance policy on it,” he said at Bagha Jatin Park in Siliguri.
Deb’s statement came days after a bomb blast in Jalpaiguri on December 26, suspected to be the handiwork of the KLO, which killed six persons. The next day bullets rained on a private bus in Malda’s Bamungola, a KLO hotbed, at night. Three passengers and the bus helper were injured. The police suspect the KLO’s hand in this attack, too.
Since the two attacks, the state government has shuffled officers in the police and made Jawed Shamim, who had handled the hill protests successfully last year, the inspector-general of north Bengal. At least seven persons linked to the KLO and the Kamtapur People’s Party (KPP) have also been arrested. The steps point to the state’s resolve to tackle the KLO problem in the same way that it quelled the Gorkhaland statehood agitation — arrests of leaders of the statehood movement on the one hand, and a push to development initiatives by the state on the other.
Although Deb did not name the KLO or the KPP, his specific mention of the bandh was a reply to KPP president Atul Roy’s charges.
Roy had told a news conference here on Tuesday that his party had been stopped by the Jalpaiguri district administration from holding a sit-in at the divisional commissioner’s office on December 30.
“We want to stage the demonstration on January 10 in offices of the district magistrate of all six north Bengal districts. If the state plans to stop us again by clamping prohibitory orders like it did in Jalpaiguri, we will be forced to call a general strike across north Bengal on January 20,” he said.
When Deb was asked today whether the state would hold talks with the outfits demanding a Kamtapur state, he said: “They have not yet dropped the demand for statehood. The state government will not sit for dialogue with representatives of any organisation which wants to divide Bengal.”
Both the KLO and the KPP want a separate Kamtapur state to be carved out of the six north Bengal districts and four contiguous districts in Assam.
Roy had said the KPP wanted talks with the state.
“Apart from the demand for statehood, we have several other demands for the development of Kamtapuri (Rajbangshi) population in north Bengal. We want the state to sit across the table and hold talks with us to resolve these issues,” Roy had said.
Deb today said the marches, like the one organised today, “and other activities will continue in rural and urban areas across north Bengal in the coming days”.
He had said yesterday that Trinamul would campaign in rural areas that had a concentration of Rajbangshis and try to bring development in these belts.