KALIMPONG: While the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) has accused Trinamool Congress of dividing the hill people of Bengal by creating 17 ethnic development boards, the ruling party in the State is banking on ethnic and social divisions to increase their presence in the upcoming municipal elections in four towns of the Bengal hills.
Accordingly, a public holiday on Buddha Jayanti for the first time on Wednesday came as a big surprise for the Buddhist community of Kalimpong district. While West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has reiterated it as in line with the government’s policy towards ‘care’ for minorities, the timing of the holiday just before the elections has raised questions over the government’s motives.
“This is definitely a welcome move but we don’t know whether there are any political motives behind declaration of a State holiday on Buddha Jayanti,” local trader Deepak Tamang said.
Besides posters and flags of TMC candidates, banners of CM Mamata Banerjee’s brainchild All India Minority Organisation have sprung up in several parts of Kalimpong town.
The hills of Kalimpong and Darjeeling districts of West Bengal are multi-ethnic and multi-religious in nature, with sprinkles of every major eastern Himalayan community – from indigenous Lepchas to Tibetan Muslims – calling the region their home.
While GJM has always presented the Gorkhaland movement as one unified movement for statehood of the hill people, Mamata Banerjee alleged that the movement left out substantial ethnic minorities, including the indigenous Lepchas.
After creating the Lepcha Development Board, the West Bengal government has added 16 more development boards for each minority community, the latest being Muslims and Gurungs, to which GJM chief and Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) chief Bimal Gurung belongs.
However, GJM has denounced these ethnic boards as a violation of the GTA agreement.
Whether the ethnic development boards are helping in ‘development’ of various ethnicities is a matter of debate, the ruling party definitely has gone an extra mile to woo the minorities of the region.
“While we Tibetan Muslims have largely remained apolitical, minorities can definitely be benefitted if schemes are implemented for them in the hills,” trader Ibrahim Shukoor said.