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Mamata playing with fire in Darjeeling, should perform CM’s duty: Union minister Ahluwalia

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is playing with fire, says Union minister SS Ahluwalia who represents Darjeeling in the Lok Sabha.

india Updated: Jun 20, 2017 22:09 IST
Kumar Uttam
Kumar Uttam
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Mamata Banerjee,SS Ahluwalia,Darjeeling
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee(PTI Photo)

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is playing with fire, says Union minister SS Ahluwalia who represents Darjeeling in the Lok Sabha. The five-term parliamentarian and BJP leader reiterates his party’s position on the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland, saying he will fight to get justice for the Gorkhas.

He gave Hindustan Times his views on crisis in Darjeeling.

Q: Why is Darjeeling in turmoil?

A: The crisis in Darjeeling was triggered after West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s statement about making Bengali mandatory in schools. A large section of the Nepali- and Santhali-speaking population of Darjeeling has reservation about this, as that would involve them giving up one of the three preferred languages: their mother tongue, English, or Hindi.

The protest started as a peaceful demonstration, but police action made matters worse. The issue could have been handled more sensitively. The first thing that Mamata Banerjee should do is to clarify categorically that there is no order and that she is not going to impose Bengali as compulsory language for the hills and Dooars regions. Given the distrust and flared-up emotions, the clarification should be official and must come from the government and not just a statement.

Q: What has the present crisis to do with the Gorkhas’ demand for a separate state?

A: The demand for a separate state by Gorkhas, Santhalis and others is pending. Mamata Banerjee’s is desperate to make inroads in Darjeeling and Dooars by dividing the Gorkhas, Adivasis and Rajbonshis. This divisive policy to serve her political interest is to be blamed for the crisis. It has reinforced, especially among the Gorkha community and others, a sense that Kolkkata is insensitive towards them. Due to this, the Gorkhas felt the need to revive their demand for a separate state. Such a divisive politics is always counterproductive.

Q: Do you blame Mamata Banerjee for the crisis?

A: She is playing with fire in Darjeeling. In order to suppress the voice of the people, she is denying access to the internet, which as per the UN Charter is a violation of human rights. As a recipient of a UN award, I wish we don’t have to remind her of these duties. It is a clear-cut example of the abuse of state’s authority. We hope Mamata Banerjee will correct herself and perform her duty as the chief minister, and not as the president of the Trinamool Congress. She would do well to remember the debt of gratitude this nation owes to Gorkhas for their role in defending our nation, and keep that in mind whenever she looks at the hills of Darjeeling.

Q: But why is the BJP government at the Centre not clarifying its stand on Gorkhaland?

A: The BJP promised in its election manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha election that “BJP will sympathetically examine and appropriately consider the long-pending demands of the Gorkhas, the Adivasis and other people of Darjeeling district and the Dooars region; of the Kamtapuri, Rajbongshi and other people of North Bengal (including recognition of their language)”.

We remain committed to this promise. There is a procedure to be followed. We are working on it. It is an old demand and a solution cannot be delivered overnight. The state government should prepare a conducive environment to take this issue to a logical end.

Q: Is there any contradiction in the BJP’s stand and the Gorkhas’ demand?

A: There is no question of a contradiction. We remain committed to every word mentioned in the party manifesto. But, as I said, the issue has been there for more than 100 years, so a solution cannot be expected overnight. As Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar and Jharkhand, I fought for justice for the Gorkhas and will continue to do so.

Q: What role does the Centre play to defuse the crisis?

A: The home ministry was prompt to respond to West Bengal’s demand for additional security forces for Darjeeling to maintain peace. But the way the state police and administration handled the situation was not appropriate.

Instead of deescalating the crisis, they used every tactic to gain political benefit out of it, settling scores with opponents and turned a simple peaceful demonstration into a battlefield. Houses of Gorkha leaders were raided and false cases registered against them. Is this how such a situation should be dealt with? The Centre is cooperating with the state, but Mamata Banerjee should take the initiative to solve the political issue.

Q: Have you taken up the matter with the central government?

A: It’s my duty, as the local MP, to act as a bridge between the people and the central government. I continue to perform my duty there, and have been in constant touch with the local leadership and the central government. I briefed the home ministry and the BJP leadership about the situation as well as the state of affairs, and have appealed to them to intervene. But, unfortunately, when the Centre requested the state to send a ground report and officials for discussing the problem, Mamata Banerjee refused to send a team to Delhi. The home ministry is concerned about the situation and it is monitoring it closely.

Q: How do you see the protest turning violent in Darjeeling?

A: The killing of unarmed protesters is unpardonable, and I have asked for an inquiry. The administration is responsible for this and shall be held accountable. The family of the deceased should be compensated. Such action against people is unacceptable, and shall not be tolerated.

Q: How do you respond to Banerjee’s alleging the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha with insurgents?

A: The CM seems to have forgotten that she is dealing with Gorkhas, people known for their valor and loyalty to India. The Gorkha community served and continues to serve the nation and is known to be second to none when it comes to defending our borders.

It is shameful that Mamata Banerjee and her administration treated them like insurgents and terrorists, choosing to use live bullets instead of other means to control crowds. This would be unacceptable in any civilized society.

The Gorkhas have been, and still are, fighting for their identity and a separate state that recognizes them as equals. And it is the state’s mistreatment over decades that led them to do so.

First Published: Jun 20, 2017 21:45 IST