Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh on Saturday appeared to defend his party’s MP and Union minister of state John Barla for demanding statehood for north Bengal, contending that Mamata Banerjee would be responsible for such an eventuality because of development lacunae.
“If Jungle Mahal or north Bengal eventually turns into separate states, it is only Mamata Banerjee who would be responsible for it. This is because both these areas have been deprived of development for decades now. People in Jungle Mahal still survive by selling saal and kendu leaves and from both these places, thousands migrate to other states in search of jobs,” said Ghosh.
“John Barla has not made any illegitimate demand,” he added. “He has simply voiced the aspirations of the people who voted for him. There is nothing wrong in it.”
Ghosh, who reached Jalpaiguri on Saturday and will be in Alipurduar on Sunday as part of his party’s statewide Shaheed Samman Yatra, surprised many with his remarks because the Bengal unit of the BJP had earlier distanced itself from the statehood call, keeping in mind the strong sentiment against any further division of Bengal.
Alipurduar MP Barla, recently appointed the Union minister of state for minority affairs, had started harping on statehood or Union territory status for north Bengal after the Trinamul government won the Assembly polls. He accompanied Ghosh on Saturday.
Ghosh said that in 2012, the state government had inked the tripartite agreement for the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). “The Bengal chief minister even allied with parties whose principal demand is Gorkhaland and no questions were raised. But when we speak about peoples’ aspirations, we are labelled as separatists. Our party will surely mull the demand,” he said.
Kunal Ghosh, Trinamul’s state general secretary and spokesperson, said the BJP should have cited the “statehood issue” in its manifesto ahead of the 2021 Assembly elections. “Dilip Ghosh and his party should have mentioned that if voted to power, they will divide Bengal. They did not, as otherwise, not a single BJP candidate would have won… Now, they are playing the divisive card...,” he said.
Minister and Trinamul leader Firhad Hakim said that as most BJP leaders in Bengal “are new in politics”, they “have no inkling of the condition of Jungle Mahal and north Bengal during Left rule and the development done by Mamata Banerjee and her government.”
Samik Bhattacharya, the BJP’s chief spokesperson in the state, said Dilip Ghosh had not said anything new. “He has not spoken in favour of dividing Bengal. In the past, our leaders have said the BJP wants equal development in Bengal without disturbing its geographical boundaries. Some people in north Bengal might have demanded a separate state with the perception that it would contribute to their development and at times, elected representatives have to voice peoples’ demands. But that does not mean that such people have to be marked as separatists,” he said.
Additional reporting by Avijit Sinha in Siliguri and Arkamoy Datta Majumdar in Calcutta