Recently, a comment made by a BJP MP from Alipurduar, John Barla, has conjured up a storm in West Bengal. On 13th June, John Barla demanded the formation of a Union Territory in North Bengal. This has, yet again, led to political unrest in the State of West Bengal. The statements made by the BJP MP has infuriated Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of the State. “We are opposed to any division of Bengal. We will never allow any such thing,” Mamata Banerjee stated in a press conference making it clear that she will not back down.
The Chief Minister has come out and reiterated several times stating that she will not let any part of Bengal fall into the hands of the Centre. She argues vehemently stating that the moment a place is declared as a Union Territory, people living in those regions lose their rights. However, BJP State President Dilip Ghosh has clarified that the BJP has not approved of any such move to divide Bengal and the statements made by certain party officials have been made in an independent capacity.
On the other hand, party leaders from BJP placed in Jalpaiguri confirmed that a virtual meeting was held on Sunday and the proposal for setting up a Union Territory in North Bengal would be raised in the monsoon session of the Parliament this year. In light of the confusion and controversy that has stirred up in the State, TMC comrades have taken out protests in Bengal and some TMC party leaders and officials have filed complaints against Barla.
Source – Zee News. Copy of the official complaint filed by TMC Congress Vice President Zakaria Hussain against John Baral at Dinhata Police Station
But the crux of the matter is: will the bifurcation of Bengal into two separate States prove beneficial for either States? According to John Barla, regions in North Bengal have seen little to no development and the people of these regions have always been treated as “others.” The region has poor health infrastructure and education has also not been developed as much. Therefore, forming the region into a Union territory will ensure the regions are not neglected and are developed instead.
Source – Researchgate.com
Cooch Behar, Darjeeling and Kamtapur are also situated in North Bengal. These specific regions have been home to three separatist movements since Independence: The Gorkha movement, the Kamtapur movement, and the agitation in Greater Cooch Behar. Even though the movements have died down, the sentiments of the local ethnic and tribal people haven’t faded. These communities- the Gorkhas, Rajbanshis, Koch and Kamatapuri – are all fighting for one thing – Identity.
They want to preserve their culture which is getting diluted by the infiltration of the prominent Bengali culture. Therefore, naturally, the idea of forming a separate state should invite support from these communities. However, quite the opposite has taken place. John Barla’s demand for forming a Union Territory in North Bengal has been shunned by these communities as well.
Firstly, the people all across West Bengal feel that the demand for forming of a separate state is an attempt to stir unnecessary unrest in the political environment of West Bengal, ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Secondly, the communities want the creation of separate states for their respective communities. For instance, the Gorkhas in Darjeeling andsome neighbouring regions have been demanding the creation of Gorkhaland: A State for their own people. Similarly, the demands of the other two separatist movements were of the same nature.
Therefore, according to the Gorkha Jana Mukti Morcha (GJM), the Greater Cooch Behar People’s Association (GCPA) and those backing the Kamtapur movement, converting North Bengal entirely into a new State will serve no purpose. These groups still demand a separate state for their own community and land.
While there are no grounds to oppose the fact that the regions in North Bengal are relatively underdeveloped in comparison to those in South Bengal, this cannot serve as the basis for bifurcating Bengal. It is not possible for the bifurcation to take place. One of the reasons is that the ethnic communities themselves have shunned the idea of forming a separate State.
Another major reason why the bifurcation will invite protests is because North Bengal is economically valuable to the State of West Bengal as a whole. It is home to several tea plantations, tourist attractions and also comprises Siliguri which connects the State to its North-Eastern districts. Therefore, formation of a separate State will prove to be a great economic loss for the State of West Bengal. Keeping this in mind, Mamata Banerjee will fight till her last breath to keep North Bengal from transforming into a State of its own.
Even though the demand of forming a separate State has been shunned by many, there are individuals who are supporting the demand. Some of those individuals have resorted to social media to share their views. According to a tweet posted by Samir Das, North Bengal hasn’t seen any industrial growth, has poor infrastructure and has always been neglected by the government. Therefore, the formation of a new State will be very good for the people of North Bengal.
If the demand for creating a new State is passed in the parliament, is there any guarantee that the regions will still develop? Is there any guarantee that any of the separatist movements won’t resurface? This is a wakeup call for the TMC leaders to make a difference in the Northern regions of the State as well. The BJP, after their loss in the Assembly election in Bengal, are looking for ways to make their presence felt in the State and the bifurcation of Bengal into two separate States will work in their favour since they have a strong holding in North Bengal.
However, separatist movements by the BJP are not going unnoticed, not by the people and especially not by the TMC. Even if the formation of a separate State seems like a far-fetched idea, it has stirred an environment of unrest, one which has left the TMC feeling uneasy. It is time for Mamata Banerjee to work on strategies to make “others” feel at home, for it is, as a matter of fact, their home.
Written by- Ada Khan
Edited by- Khyati Kallianpur
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