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Mamata attacks GTA on funds

- BUMPY RIDE GIVES CM AMMO TO SLAM MORCHA

Gorubathan, March 26: Mamata Banerjee today told a Trinamul Congress rally here that the GTA Sabha run by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha was not utilising funds for development works, pointing to the bad state of a road she had taken to reach the venue.

The Trinamul Congress leader said the State Highway 12 which had brought her to Gorubathan yesterday was in disrepair because the hill body was not utilising funds for development works.

Gorubathan, 60km from Siliguri, is part of the Kalimpong Assembly constituency and comes under the jurisdiction of the GTA. Her assumption was that since a large stretch of the road fell within the GTA territory, it was the hill body’s responsibility to repair it.

However, district officials pointed out that perhaps the chief minister was unaware that state highway was being maintained by the Border Roads Organisation and not the GTA.

Beginning her speech, Mamata said: “Who will make the road? GTA de diya hai… Kaam to pehle karo.. khali chillata hai (GTA has been given to them… Do the work first… You only shout). There are three stages in being educated… First the primary level, then the secondary, then college and finally university… Without completing the primary level education they want admission in the university.”

The chief minister was touching on an issue that had been highlighted by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in Jalpaiguri yesterday. After travelling on a potholed road to the venue of a Congress workers’ meeting, Rahul slammed the Mamata government for the sorry state of roads and “non-utilisation of funds” in Bengal.

Upset with the Morcha for its decision to lend support to the BJP in the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat, the bumpy ride to Gorubathan may have been just a ruse for Mamata to hit out at the hill party.

Although Morcha leaders had turned up at a rally of Trinamul at Brigade Parade Grounds in Calcutta on January 30, efforts to field a common candidate by the two parties in Darjeeling fell through after Mamata had unilaterally announced the name of Bhaichung Bhutia for the seat.

Today, the chief minister blamed the Morcha for the failure of talks between the two parties to stitch an alliance. “I called them up (the Morcha) thrice to settle the candidate. They said their party would discuss, decide… Such a big party they are, international party… How long could I wait? I am not their servant,” she said.

Taking a dig at the Morcha for backing BJP candidate S.S. Ahluwalia, Mamata asked why the hill outfit couldn’t find a single candidate from the hills.

“They keep making trouble and go to Delhi at every opportunity. They are asking for Gorkhaland but couldn’t find a single candidate (from the hills). Bhaichung is from the hills. Is there any difference between the hills in Darjeeling and Sikkim?” she asked.

Bhaichung was on the dais with the chief minister.

Mamata also reminded the crowd of the number of times she had visited the Darjeeling hills and the development programmes announced by her government.

The chief minister had to repeatedly wave the Trinamul flag bearing the party symbol at the crowd to familiarise the gathering, largely comprising Gorkhas, with Bhaichung’s election symbol.

Although Mamata is banking on the immense popularity of the former Indian football captain in the hills to wrest the seat from the Morcha-BJP combine, she is aware that there won’t be a walkover as the Morcha still has a significant clout in the hills.

In 2009, the Morcha supported BJP candidate, Jaswant Singh, had polled 51.5 per cent of the votes. In the Assembly elections, the Morcha candidate for Kalimpong had bagged more than 87 per cent votes.

“It has to be seen whether the Morcha can still control the voting pattern in the Darjeeling hills. There is every possibility that communities like the Lepchas and Tamangs would vote in favour of the Trinamul candidate because the government has set up development boards for these communities. These hill communities used to vote for the predominant party in the hills before. Like in the plains, the hill votes could also be splintered this time,” said a Trinamul leader.

Gorubathan is located between the Darjeeling hills and the Dooars. Leaders of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad and hill communities like the Lepchas, Tamangs, Rais and Bhutias attended today’s meeting.

The Parishad had already announced that it would support Trinamul in the Lok Sabha polls.

At Birpara in Alipurduar, where Mamata addressed another workers’ conference later in the day, she had a reason to smile.

The Greater Cooch Behar People’s Association and Bodo Sahitya Sabha pledged support to Trinamul in the Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Cooch Behar Lok Sabha seats.