The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Opp. to put special status to test

Darjeeling, April 16: The Assembly election in the hills is set to be a referendum on the Sixth Schedule status as the People's Democratic Front (PDF) ' the anti-Subash Ghisingh coalition ' is gearing up to submit the proposed status to a direct popular vote.

Though the PDF is expected to release its manifesto only after allocation of the symbol on April 23, the opinions expressed by its leaders during the announcement of their candidates for the three hill Assembly segments suggest that other issues are likely to be thrown on the backburner.

D.K. Pradhan, who was the lone MLA to officially oppose the signing of the Memorandum of Settlement, categorically maintained at a public meeting here on Saturday that 'a provision which makes the majority of the hill people minorities would only lead to division and mayhem'.

The polls will be the first opportunity for the hill people to expresses their opinion on the Sixth Schedule status, for till date ' due to Ghisingh's unwillingness ' no elections to the DGHC have been held.

The special status which caters to the needs of the tribals ' the hills have only about 33 per cent of them ' has already stirred a hornet's nest, with the Scheduled Castes (SCs) also demanding reservation in the proposed dispensation. Madan Tamang, chairman of the PDF, has urged the SCs to fight for their rights. 'In democracy, at times you must snatch your rights,' said Tamang.

The PDF which was holding its public meeting after seven months'the GNLF had forced the coalition to cancel its earlier meetings'also took the opportunity to criticise Ghisingh's recent interference in the cultural and religious traditions of the Tamangs.

'Ghisingh has been maintaining that Tamangs are holding on to bhakus (Tibetan dress and thus their culture) but Ghisingh himself wears a tie around his neck. We have never said he is holding on to' the Britishers,' said Tamang.

The Tamangs are one of the largest communities in the hills and with Ghisingh also having antagonised the SCs and with the majority of the people here yet to be made tribals, the performance of the PDF candidates in the Assembly polls is likely to be a mood-indicator for the coming council elections.

'Even if the PDF candidates manage to put up a good show at the Assembly elections without actually winning the seats, it would be a big blow to Ghisingh and could influence the council elections later,' said a political observer.

The PDF candidates from the hills ' Amar Lama (Darjeeling), B.M. Rai (Kurseong) and Norden Lama (Kalimpong) ' have in the meantime already started campaigning.

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