Gorkhaland activists raise demand in Mamata's presence

Darjeeling, Jan 29 (IANS) Hardening their stand on their demand for Gorkhaland, GJM activists Tuesday raised slogans for a separate state in West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's presence at a programme here.

Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) party chief Bimal Gurung later hit out at her for her statements, saying she was hurting the people of the hills by calling the area a part of Bengal.

The commotion started soon after Banerjee finished her brief speech at a function where she announced a slew of development initiatives. Some GJM activists stood up and waved posters that read "We want Gorkhaland", and also shouted slogans pressing for the creation of Gorkhaland.

Banerjee sat through the demonstration looking distinctly uncomfortable, as senior bureaucrats and police officers seemed to have been caught off-guard.

With the unruly scenes continuing, Gurung, who was sharing the dais, appealed to the party activists to calm down and let the programme conclude smoothly.

As the protestors stopped, Banerjee took the microphone and admonished the activists, reminding them it was not a party programme, but a government one.

"We must not say anything which will give a wrong message. It is neither your party's programme nor my party's programme. I am very rough and tough in this regard."

"Don't give any wrong message so that people will misunderstand that Darjeeling is again going for something else. This is a political slogan. You can give. It is your prerogative. But give it in your party programme, not (at a) government programme".

The demonstration comes at a time the GJM has renewed its demand for Gorkhaland, around six months after the formation of the new hill development body, Gorkha Territorial Administration run by the party. The GJM recently held meetings in the hills on the issue, while its leaders and workers are holding a sit-in at Delhi's Jantar Mantar.

However, even before the slogan-shouting, the discord between Gurung and Banerjee was evident.

The GJM chief, who is also the chief executive of the GTA, in his address expressed dismay over being "kept in the dark" about the development projects which Banerjee announced and said that he wanted to resign a day back.

"I am the GTA chief executive. But I don't know anything about these development schemes. The district magistrate is the ex-officio principal secretary of the GTA. But he also did not keep me informed."

"I wanted to resign from the post of GTA chief executive yesterday. But my supporters prevented me," he said.

Banerjee, who spoke after Gurung, put the blame on North Bengal Affairs Minister Gautam Deb.

"He has invited both Bimal Gurung and me. May be, there has been some misunderstanding regarding the manner of the invitation."

However, she defended the state government's right to take up development programmes on its own.

Calling Darjeeling as a part of West Bengal, she said: "We want Darjeeling to be united. We want (entire Bengal) to remain united. Darjeeling is a part of us... Darjeeling is a part of West Bengal."

Gurung criticised the statement.

"Whenever she comes, she hurts us in some small measure by saying Darjeeling is part of West Bengal. I know she has her political compulsions. But so do we. People are now angry," Gurung said.

"Now, only time can say whether GTA will be there, though we want to continue with the GTA."

He also demanded removal of Darjeeling district magistrate Soumitra Mohan from the post of GTA principal secretary.

The long-standing agitation on the demand for forming a separate state out of the northern West Bengal hills has led to loss of many lives over the past two decades, besides hitting hard the region's economic mainstays of tea, timber and tourism.

On July 18 last year, a tripartite agreement was signed between the GJM, and the state and central governments for setting up a new autonomous, elected GTA -- a hill council armed with more powers than its predecessor, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council formed in the late 1980s.

The GJM now runs the GTA after sweeping its maiden elections last July.