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regular-article-logo Friday, 24 May 2024

Issue of conferring ST to 11 communities in hills assumes importance as political parties move into last leg of campaign

Both BJP and Trinamul leaders told voters in Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong under Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat that if voted to power, they would ensure that demand is met

Avijit Sinha Siliguri Published 24.04.24, 10:46 AM
Kiren Rijiju; (right) Abhishek Banerjee

Kiren Rijiju; (right) Abhishek Banerjee File picture

The issue of conferring Scheduled Tribe status to 11 communities in the hills has assumed importance as political parties have moved into their last leg of campaign for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat.

Darjeeling votes on April 26.

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In the hills, 11 communities have been demanding ST status for many years. The Narendra Modi government, in the Centre for the past 10 years, is yet to meet the demand.

On Tuesday, both the BJP and Trinamool leaders told voters in Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong under the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat that if voted to power, they would ensure that the demand is met.

“The BJP has said they would provide Scheduled Tribe status to 11 different communities in the hills. If they provided the status, members of these communities could have got extra benefits from the governments. But they didn’t do it. This proves that Modi’s guarantee is a hollow promise,” said Trinamool’s national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee at a public meeting in the northwest outskirts of Siliguri on Tuesday.

Abhishek was speaking in support of Gopal Lama whom the party fielded from Darjeeling.

Abhishek said that after the Mamata Banerjee government assumed office in 2011, she was instrumental in forming the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). “We have restored peace in the hills and the state government has done a slew of development work in the hills. This is Didi’s guarantee. If we are voted to power in the Centre, let me guarantee that ST status would be conferred to all the 11 communities,” he said.

In Darjeeling hills, around 32 per cent of the population belongs to the ST category now. If these 11 communities are granted the same status, the percentage of ST population in the hills will increase to around 90 per cent, said political veterans in the region.

“These communities constitute a considerable portion of voters in the hills. It is evident that ahead of the elections, each political party is trying to win their support with the promise to meet their old demand,” said a senior political leader of the hills.

The communities demanding ST status are Rai, Gurung, Khas, Newar, Yakha (Dewan), Mangar, Jogi, Sunwar, Bhujel, Thami and Dhimal.

Like Abhishek, Union minister and BJP leader Kiren Rijiju, who campaigned for BJP candidate Raju Bista in Kurseong on Tuesday, said that the BJP was committed to meeting the demands of the hill residents.

“I have come here to assure that under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Gorkhas will get justice and your two major issues will be addressed. It is Modi’s guarantee,” Rijiju said at a public meeting at Monteviot Ground near the hill town.

He said that the earlier NDA government led by Atal Bihar Vajpayee granted ST status to Limbu and Tamang communities.

“During my tenure in the Union law ministry, we have prepared all the legal documents to back the 11 left-out Gorkha sub-tribes for their re-inclusion as the Scheduled Tribes. The Union home minister had said that our government is completing the process and it will be done after the government is formed,” added Rijiju.

In Darjeeling, the BJP has won thrice since 2009. This time, the party has fielded Bista for the second time.

Like the Trinamool Congress and the BJP, the Congress too has spoken on the issue. Munish Tamang, a professor based in Delhi with roots in the hills, as the Darjeeling Congress nominee has been reminding peoplethat the Congress in the Centre formed the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) in the eighties and later the GTA and also recognised the Nepali language.

“The Congress has a proven history that it has delivered for Darjeeling. But the BJP has won elections with false assurances in the past 15 years. We are all set to work for inclusion of the left-out communities on the ST list,” he said.

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