The district Congress leadership in Darjeeling on Tuesday proposed Union Territory (UT) status for the Hills, which could lend a new dimension to the battle for Gorkhaland.
The proposal contradicts the claims of Congress leader and Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee that an autonomous council would be the only long-term solution to the Gorkha crisis. The Hills Congress, however, sought to sidestep the issue. "I have not heard anything from the AICC on the matter and hence would not comment," said BK Jha, the Congress election observer for West Bengal, to the Hills.
"Since the road to Gorkhaland is longwinding and complicated, Union Territory status could be a lot easier. Darjeeling district Congress has already adopted a resolution on the same and we have also held talks with our central leadership on the issue," Darjeeling district Congress president KB Chettri said on the sidelines of Jha's visit.
However, not to be left alone from the Gorkhaland bandwagon, Jha said, "Congress has always been sympathetic to the Gorkha cause. From Indira Gandhi to Rajiv Gandhi, our party has always tried hard to solve the Gorkha crisis. Even Rajivji had talked of union territory status for Darjeeling."
However, he did not have a specific reply to whether the Congress supports the demand for a separate state. "Our party is for the people. We respect the sentiments of the local populace and are keen to work for him," said Jha.
National parties are aware that the Gorkhaland issue can guarantee an inroad into Hills politics and not have not fought shy of exploiting the issue for political benefits over time. Even the BJP, in its poll manifesto during the last parliamentary elections had pledged to "sympathetically examine and appropriately consider the long pending demands of the Gorkhas." He exuded confidence on the harvest of the alliance between the Congress and Trinamool in the Hills.