Kolkata: In a U-turn from her earlier drive to expand in the hills of West Bengal, chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday signalled that her Trinamool Congress party was not looking for “electoral gains" in Darjeeling.
“I am not here to ask for votes," Banerjee told a public rally in Darjeeling on Wednesday, adding that her key concern is development and peace.
On Tuesday, Banerjee had said at another function that she would not claim “any share" in the gains from peace and development in Darjeeling.
“Peace and development come first, electoral politics secondary," Goutam Deb, a cabinet minister and a key Trinamool Congress leader in north Bengal, said in a phone interview, echoing her view.
In June last year, the Gorkha community launched a stir soon after elections to the local municipal bodies showed the Trinamool Congress was fast gaining ground in the hills. Because of a rift within the dominant Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), the Trinamool Congress even managed to secure the municipal board in the hill town of Mirik.
Banerjee had described the results as the beginning of a “new era", while another Trinamool Congress leader and cabinet minister Arup Biswas had said people in the hills had finally voted for development.
To gain ground, Banerjee had created several development boards in Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts in a move widely seen by the Gorkhas as divisive politics. In early June, after the chief minister visited the hills for a cabinet meeting, the Gorkhas launched a violent agitation, shutting down Darjeeling for at least 104 days.
The Gorkha community has always reacted sharply to parties from the plains making inroads into Darjeeling. Back in the early 1980s, when Left parties tried to penetrate tea garden trade unions, the Gorkhas fought back. In the violent standoff in the mid-1980s, at least 1,200 people perished. Eventually, the Left backed down, allowing Gorkhas some autonomy in administration.
“The Trinamool Congress’s attempt to enter the hills and the resistance it faced from the Gorkhas was a rerun of what happened in the 1980s," said a political analyst, who asked not to be identified. It appears that the chief minister has realised that it is better from the standpoint of administration not to expand politically in the hills, he added.
On Wednesday, Banerjee appealed to the Gorkha community to desist from disruptive politics, saying it only benefits neighbouring Sikkim, which was alleged to have harboured the fugitive GJM leader Bimal Gurung. She also promised to push industrialization in Darjeeling if the Gorkhas helped create a conducive atmosphere.