MIRIK: Despite having only nine wards and 2,000 voters, the municipality of Mirik has become ground zero of the current civic poll battle in Darjeeling. The vote is on Sunday.
While the Trinamool Congress is hoping that its decision to declare Mirik as a new subdivision and its promise to allocate land pattas (documents) to people in seven of the nine wards will win votes, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) is confident that its demand of separate statehood cannot be suppressed by ‘eyewash politics’.
Mirik has a history of tough political battles. While GJM won the Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong municipalities unopposed in 2012, independent candidates put up some resistance. But then the Trinamool Congress was non-existent here. However, it is here now, and the party has fielded its top ministers and leaders Goutam Deb, Mukul Roy and Arup Biswas for the campaign.
“Earlier, there used to be no election, only selection. Whomever GJM picked, he or she used to win unopposed. However, this time we are confident of forming the municipal board in Mirik,” TMC Darjeeling district president Rajen Mukhia told New Indian Express.
“People in seven of the nine wards don’t have land pattas. They live on land leased from a tea estate. People here formed a Land People’s Forum and gave petitions to chief minister Mamata Banerjee and she finally took up the issue. The government has completed the survey for land allotment. As soon as we form the board, we will distribute the pattas,” Rajen Mukhia added.
The TMC district president also hoped that declaration of Mirik subdivision on March 30 would work in favour of his party.
On the other hand, Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) executive member Phoebe Rai said the creation of Mirik subdivision was only a ploy to absorb the region into yet-to-be-formed Siliguri district.
“No issue can suppress the Gorkhaland sentiment. The TMC wants Mirik to be part of Siliguri district. Also, they are distributing 5 decimals of land to families that own 3 acres of land now. We don’t need pattas. We are the sons of the soil. Also, land reforms are a direct interference in GTA’s authority. Land is our subject, not the state government’s,” he said.
Phoebe Rai added, “We were better during the British Raj. The West Bengal government is only after revenue from the 87 tea gardens in Darjeeling district, which generate Rs 11,000 crore every year. In return, the state and central governments give us Rs 500 crore. We hope the BJP’s growth in Bengal will strengthen GJM and help us achieve a Gorkhaland state.”
Police forces are on their toes for Sunday’s polls to seven municipalities in Bengal, four of which are in the hills. “We have covered all sectors in the four hill municipalities according to the Election Commission guidelines. Forces have been equally distributed in Darjeeling, Kurseong, Kalimpong and Mirik. As of now, we don’t have any reports of poll violence in Mirik. Our endeavour is to ensure peaceful polls here,” said Darjeeling superintendent of police Amit P Javalgi.