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Since 1st March, 1999
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Narbula fails in balancing act

Darjeeling, April 24: For Dawa Narbula, avoiding commitments to Gorkhaland had been tough and the Congress MP had almost managed to get away till he decided to address a meeting in the hills today.

In Narbula’s case, it had been a situation of choosing between the devil and the deep sea. While the Congress had made it clear that it did not support the splitting of Bengal for the creation of Gorkhaland, the MP, a Gorkha himself, was branded a traitor by his community which under the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has been agitating for statehood.

Today, in his first election rally in the hills, Narbula started his speech reminding people of the fulfilment of his promise to bring drinking water to Darjeeling, his efforts towards getting a tribal university, implementing the 100-day work scheme in the district and his support to organic farming.

For the Congress, which is relying on the plains voters with strong anti-statehood sentiments, the development plank worked well. It worked even when Narbula came down heavily on “heavyweight” BJP candidate Jaswant Singh.

“I would have voted for the BJP if it had promised Gorkhaland in the manifesto as clearly as it had mentioned Telengana,” said the sitting MP, who won the seat last time riding piggyback on the GNLF in Chowk Bazar. This time, the GNLF has been replaced with the Morcha, as far as the influence in the hills is concerned. The party is also backing Singh. Narbula broached the topic of Singh accompanying terrorists to Kandahar in Afghanistan when he was the external minister.

But when in hills, no leader can get away from Gorkhaland. As the crowd, thin though it was, grew impatient, Narbula was forced to broach the statehood issue. “After the trust vote, Sonia Gandhi called me and inquired about the problems I was facing (his residence in Darjeeling had been gheraoed by Morcha supporters demanding that he raise his voice in support of Gorkhaland). I then submitted a memorandum to her where I had maintained that a separate state should be created and that a State Reorganisation Commission be set up,” he said.

Narbula’s argument that the Congress manifesto has clearly specified that the party was in favour of smaller states, was not convincing either.

“The Congress is the only party that can find a solution to the issue,” he said clearly at pains to work out a balance before the Lok Sabha elections. Senior leaders of the Congress like Pranab Mukherjee had always ruled out Gorkhaland.

Today’s public meeting was the first by the Congress in about one-and-a-half years in the hills. The thin crowd indicated that the party was yet to strengthen its organisational set-up in the hills.

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