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Prime Minister Narendra Modi may raise ethnic issues in Bengal rally today

PM Narendra Modi is also expected to touch upon sensitive issues relating to the Darjeeling hills, including the demand for recognising 11 Gorkha communities as Scheduled Tribes and recognition of Rajbonshi/Kamtapuri language.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Feb 08, 2019 15:44 IST
Other issues which could be on Modi’s mind are more railway links in north Bengal and announcement on Bir Chila Ray, one of the icons of Rajbonshi community that dominate over a vast area in the region.
Other issues which could be on Modi’s mind are more railway links in north Bengal and announcement on Bir Chila Ray, one of the icons of Rajbonshi community that dominate over a vast area in the region.
         

Eyeing to win at least 23 Lok Sabha seats out of the 42 in West Bengal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to make announcements on sensitive and ethnic issues for eight districts of north Bengal on Friday.

PM Modi is also expected to touch upon sensitive issues relating to the Darjeeling hills, including the demand for recognising 11 Gorkha communities as Scheduled Tribes and recognition of Rajbonshi/Kamtapuri language.

Other issues which could be on Modi’s mind are more railway links in north Bengal and announcement on Bir Chila Ray, one of the icons of Rajbonshi community that dominate over a vast area in the region. Ray was the brother of former Koch Behar king Maharaja Naranarayan and was considered a great warrior by historians like Arnold Toynbee.

“People are anxiously waiting for the Prime Minister to address them on Friday,” Rathindra Bose, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) north Bengal zone in-charge, said.

Modi, who had campaigned in north Bengal before the last Lok Sabha polls and assembly election in 2016, had touched upon many issues, including the demand for inclusion of 11 left out Gorkha communities in the Scheduled Tribe list.

It was during the assembly election campaign he had named all the 11 communities and said, “The man whom you have sent to Delhi has started his work.” He was referring to SS Ahluwalia, the BJP’s Lok Sabha MP from Darjeeling.

However, during his 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign, Modi did not utter the word Gorkhaland, when referring to the aspirations of the Gorkha people. “The dream of the Gorkhas is my dream,” he said.

Though the BJP in its election manifestos in 2009 and 2014 had said it would sympathetically look into the long-pending aspiration of the Gorkhas, Rajbonshis and Adivasis, the Centre is yet to address the concerns of these three ethnic groups.

For the Gorkhas, a separate state of Gorkhaland to be carved out of the hills of the north Bengal is their eventual goal for which they have resorted to violent agitation against the state government in the mid-1980s and 2017 during which many were killed.

BJP leaders in the region said Modi, in a bid to win over the Rajbonshi or Kamtapuri community, might announce something big in relation to the recognition of Rajbonshi/Kamtapuri language under the eighth schedule of the Constitution.

Rajbonsis are in majority in Alipurduar and Cooch Behar districts. Many believe that the BJP has an opportunity to win Cooch Behar and Alipurduar Lok Sabha seats.

According to an official programme, Modi will also inaugurate the much-awaited circuit bench of Calcutta High Court in Jalpaiguri when he visits Maynaguri for his third election campaign rally in the eastern state. The bench, which has been discussed for decades, will benefit the people in north Bengal who have to travel about 600km to attend cases in Kolkata.

On Thursday, a controversy erupted around the inauguration of the circuit bench, with state law minister Malay Ghatak alleging that Modi was trying to claim credit for a project the infrastructure of which has been built by the Mamata Banerjee government.

“We have kept the infrastructure ready five months ago and the Union government was delaying the process of Presidential announcement so long. Now this sudden announcement was made keeping the elections in mind,” alleged Ghatak.

Senior Trinamool Congress leader and state tourism minister Gautam Deb said, “Whatever has been built already is a temporary structure. To build a permanent one too, the state government has allocated 40 acres of land and Rs 4 billion.”

The BJP’s state unit president Dilip Ghosh accused the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress of cheap politicking.

In a bid to address the concerns of more than 0.36 million tea garden workers and their families, the Prime Minister might also talk about the long-pending demand for fixation of minimum wages.

Ziaul Alam, a senior CITU leader, expressed optimism. He is also the convener of the joint forum of 27 trade unions demanding minimum wages for tea garden workers and the takeover of closed and distressed tea gardens by the central and state governments.

“We believe the Prime Minister is well aware of the situation in tea gardens and hope he will make some policy announcements to provide relief to the tea garden workers,” he said.

Twenty-three out of 283 tea gardens in north Bengal are now closed.

Though in January 2016, the Union commerce and industry ministry authorised the Tea Board of India to take over the management or the control of seven of the 14 tea estates owned by the Duncans Industries Ltd with immediate effect, the matter went to the courts and the workers continued to live in misery.

“By announcing the takeover of seven tea gardens, the Centre was doing politics and Modi is once again coming to north Bengal before the election to do politics and just to hoodwink people,” alleged state minister Gautam Deb.

He will also lay the foundation stone for rehabilitation and upgradation the 41.7-km-long Ghoshpukur-Salsalabari section of National Highway 31D. The stretch is a part of the 3,300-km-long East-West Corridor that connects Porbandar in Gujarat and Silchar in Assam.

First Published: Feb 08, 2019 15:44 IST