Kolkata: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday said Bengali will not be a compulsory subject in schools in the hill district of Darjeeling, making a quick U-turn based on her political instincts.
Last week, when she said that all schools in West Bengal, irrespective of their board affiliations, must teach Bengali till Class X, no exemption was announced. She only said students do not have to sit for a test in Bengali if they didn’t want to.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) immediately started to rally support for a movement against making Bengali compulsory in the school curriculum. Led by the GJM, a large section of the native Gorkha population of the hills has been trying for decades to carve out a separate state.
Banerjee said at Mirik on Monday that the state had no plans to force students in Darjeeling to read Bengali in schools, but added that learning Bengali will help them secure jobs in the future.
The GJM had misled the local people into believing that the state was imposing Bengali on them, she claimed.
With an eye on the upcoming election to the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA)—the semi-autonomous administrative body for the Darjeeling and Kurseong districts—Banerjee decided to nip the agitation in the bud, said a close aide, who didn’t want to be identified.
Banerjee, in her speech, said the GJM was trying to create an “issue" out of language at a time when it had no other cause to espouse, this person said, adding that her stand is clear—ideally they should read Bengali for their own good, but the state would not force them to do so.
Though the clarification has made the GJM protests over introduction of Bengali in the school curriculum redundant, a spokesperson for the party said the GJM would continue its agitation over it until the proposed bill making Bengali compulsory till Class X was passed with exemption for schools in the hills.
In the election to the GTA in 2012, the GJM won all the 45 seats, many unopposed. This time though, Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress party is looking to make inroads into the GJM bastion, having already secured a toehold in Mirik. In the recently-concluded civic body elections, Trinamool Congress candidates were elected to run the Mirik municipality.
The GJM spokesperson said the party lost in Mirik because of internal differences and that it would take steps to strengthen its organisation in the town.