By Tirthankar Mitra
West Bengal unit of BJP finds itself between a rock and a hard place over the renewal of separate statehood demand of some of its north Bengal legislators. Trinamool Congress may not find this. emotive issue of another partition issue a handy tool to berate the saffron camp in the panchayat polls this year, it would assume a different dimension to take on BJP in next year’s Lok Sabha election.
As a resolution against creation of another state was passed in West Bengal Assembly, leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari made it clear that his party does not subscribe to the formation of another state. But even before the ink had dried on the resolution, Kurseong resounded with protests against it.
- bandh call has been given by Gorkha Jan Morcha and Hamro Party on 23 February in support of the separate statehood demand only to be suspended The BJP despite its leader’s dissociation protestation in the Assembly had not opposed it.
It is the first agitation of its kind since the 2017 when the statehood demand call saw a 104 day shutdown. The battlelines have been drawn as chief minister, Mamata Banerjee touring north Bengal has warned of stern measures against the sponsors of the bandh.
With the statewide Madhyamik examination beginning on February 22, apprehension of examinees being inconvenienced was perhaps the reason of keeping it on hold. Yet the chief minister’s tough talk had earned her more sympathy from the local people than the bandh sponsors.
Reading between the lines reveal a strong possibility of Mamata Banerjee led Trinamool riding the crest of a wave of sympathy and support in next year’s Lok Sabha elections.
Banerjee and her party leaders hitting the campaign trail next year espousing the cause of an united West Bengal will be closer to the head and heart of Bengali voters. The BJP leaders, on the other hand, have moved away from the voters’ minds owing to the silence of their leaders on the issue of separate statehood.
Having won 18 Lok Sabha constituencies in West Bengal in 2019 Lok Sabha election, the possibility of a significant slump in the number of seats owing to the backfiring of the statehood demand looms large before.BJP.
For apart from being a part a tourist destination, the cool bracing climate of north Bengal with Darjeeling the focal point of attraction has other tired with the rest of the state. Small wonder, the idea of Gorkhaland being carved out and made into a separate entity is an anathema to the people of the state.
Apart from its natural beauty, this part of West Bengal is dotted with spots associated with the memories of persons who were political and cultural icons of the state. Deshbandhu Vidya Ranjan Das breathed his last in Darjeeling and so did Sister Nivedita, none of whom need any introduction.
Rabindranath Tagore had stayed at Mongpu. Satyajit Ray had shot his first colour film Kanchenjungha in Darjeeling.
Economic significance of north Bengal cannot be overlooked. Tea and timber are the principal components whose sale add much needed funds to the state coffers.
The BJP leadership may rejoice in its heart of hearts at the discomfiture of the Trinamool government even as the hills resonate with statehood demand. But its tacit support for the proposed statehood will cost it dear in the 2024 poll battle given the cultural and economic ties of north Bengal with the rest of the state.
The stand of BJP on separate statehood would not only give Trinamool greater connect with the voters even before the poll campaign has started, the ruling party of the state will get unexpected perquisites too. Enlarging on a conspiracy theory to divide the state, the ruling party’s campaigners will get an opportunity to cover up the shortcomings of its regime.
From exodus of youth in search of jobs to other states to introducing politics of dole the list of Trinamool regime’s drawbacks is long. But what could have been campaign ammunition to the saffron camp to pin down TMC with will be swept under the carpet by the statehood demand.
Opposition to the statehood demand and taking tough stands against bandh supporters have already brushed up the image of chief minister, Mamata Banerjee. In no time, the Trinamool cosign managers will portray her as a rallying point against any move against bifurcation of the state.
The separate statehood demand has put the saffron in the coming Lok Sabha elections. With south Bengal having more seats than northern part of the state, the Trinamool with its claim to keep the state will have an upper hand among voters of more constituencies, a reminder to the fact that elections are a game of numbers at the end of the day.
Come Lok Sabha polls, the BJP leadership will find dissociating itself from the *bifurcation plot” to be an uphill task. It’s task will not be made easier as it’s leading campaigners like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister, Amit Shah being busy in other states will be devoting lesser time and attention to West Bengal than they did in 2021 Assembly elections.
The state BJP is not in a position to come out openly against separate statehood demand. It’s north Bengal rank and file together with some of its MLAs will not tow this line.
Feeble protests of having nothing to do with statehood demand like one voiced by leader of the Opposition Adhikari will not add to its credibility In sum, the state saffron camp has handed over its arch political opponent Trinamool a lethal political weapon on a platter. (IPA Service)