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Shanta Chhetri to join Trinamul
Biggest Gorkha name to switch to party

Siliguri, Feb. 21: Shanta Chhetri, a well-known GNLF leader and prominent Gorkha name, has said she will join Trinamul soon, which would make for the most high-profile defection to the state’s ruling party in the hills.

The three-time former GNLF MLA from Kurseong has declared her intention to switch at a time Trinamul is trying to expand its base in the hills.

Shanta, when contacted in Calcutta, gave the picture of the frustration non-Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leaders face in the hills, especially those like her who are identified with the GNLF. “I have always worked for the people, but over the past five-six years, I had to sit back because of changes in the political and the law-and-order situation in the hills,” she said.

Shanta gave the credit for peace in the hills to “the relentless efforts of the chief minister”. “I have thought of taking the opportunity to work for development of the common people dwelling in the hills,” she said. “I will shortly join Trinamul.”

Trinamul all-India general secretary Mukul Roy confirmed that the party was in talks with Shanta. “She and some other GNLF leaders have met us. Talks are on. We will let you know when she joins,” Roy said at the Trinamul Bhavan in Calcutta.

For the hill Trinamul, the prospect of getting Shanta in the party is being seen as a major boost. “This is indeed a big gain for Trinamul. She is the biggest name among leaders in the hills who have joined us,” a senior Trinamul leader said in Siliguri today.

The Trinamul leader said: “Shanta Chhetri will join our party in the presence of our general secretary Mukul Roy in Calcutta tomorrow, along with many GNLF workers and supporters.”

So far, GNLF leaders K.N. Subba, N.B. Khawas, Tshering Sherpa and Rajen Mukhia have joined Trinamul.

Shanta is one of the GNLF leaders who faced the wrath of the Morcha when it was rising as a force in the hills. On February 18, 2010, her house was set on fire during a strike called by the Gorkha Janmukti Vidyarthi Morcha. Shanta’s husband was ill then, and the GNLF leader was in a local sub-divisional hospital with her son and daughter-in-law when the house was torched. On February 25, husband Deo Chandra Karki died in hospital. The next day, a poster signed by “Gorkhaland-loving people” appeared in the hills, announcing that loyalists of the statehood movement would not attend the funeral of the MLA’s husband.

In 2008, Shanta was forced to leave Kurseong after an alleged Morcha mob ringed her house and demanded that she leave the hills immediately.

Shanta won the Kurseong seat in the 1996 Assembly polls. In 2001 and 2006, she retained the seat. In 2011, Rohit Sharma of the Morcha won the seat. Shanta did not contest.

What is also telling is that Shanta did not choose any other hill party, such as the ABGL or the CPRM. Sources said Trinamul is a rising force in the hills, and the ABGL and the CPRM have not grown much in the past couple of years.

A hill Trinamul leader said: “She still has a considerable number of supporters. Her ability to converse fluently in three-four languages, her down-to-earth approach and excellent public relation skills had helped the GNLF a lot. It would help our party to expand its base.”