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CM calls hill ST aspirants for meeting
Invite linked to bid for Darjeeling victory

Darjeeling, Feb. 28: Mamata Banerjee has invited the representatives of 10 communities in the Darjeeling hills to Nabanna for a meeting with her tomorrow as she seeks to leave no stone unturned to grab the support of a majority of people in the region.

The meeting comes close on the heels of the state government’s decision to recommend Scheduled Tribe status for Rai, Yakkha, Gurung, Bhujel, Newar, Jogi, Sunwar-Mukhia, Mangar, Khas and Thami communities.

Sources at Nabanna said the chief minister had signed a file today, recommending the ST status for the 10 communities. The file has been returned to the backward classes welfare department which will send the recommendation to the Centre tomorrow.

“Ideally, the proposal should have been vetted by the state cabinet. But the chief minister does not want to delay the process and it will be mentioned in a cabinet meet later,” said an official.

The state government’s move to seek the ST status is being seen as a political stunt ahead of the Lok Sabha polls as a survey has shown that most of the communities don’t fulfil the economic and social criteria needed for the tag.

A leader of a hill community who refused to be identified said: “The meeting is at Nabanna, Howrah, at 3pm tomorrow. We are unaware of the agenda.”

The representative of another community said: “I think we will be briefed on the state’s effort to grant ST status to the 10 hill communities.”

Observers said the invitation was part of a bid by the chief minister to secure the support of the 10 communities for the Trinamul Congress in the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat. “The 10 communities represent more than 50 per cent of the hill population. Mamata’s meeting is aimed at getting these communities on her side. If she can cajole these communities into supporting the Trinamul candidate in Darjeeling, there is every chance of her party’s victory,” said an observer.

Of the approximate 14 lakh voters in the Darjeeling seat, about 6.5 lakh are from the hills. The Darjeeling seat has mostly been won by a candidate backed by the predominant hill party as the hill voters would vote en masse. The votes in the plains get divided among the Congress, CPM, Trinamul and other parties.

Although representatives of all the 10 communities could not be contacted by The Telegraph, leaders of four-five communities admitted that they would be attending the meeting in Howrah tomorrow. “We are already on our way,” said one of the leaders.

The representative of only one community said he was not aware of the Nabanna meeting.

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha general secretary, Roshan Giri, said: “Its good that the chief minister is meeting the community leaders. The government should pursue the ST demand fast.”

Morcha chief Bimal Gurung, had said yesterday that he would convene a meeting of the leaders of the 10 communities here on March 5.