GORKHA POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS: Morcha gets ready to prove mettle – Rivals plan to put up resistance to plains rally – when push comes to shove, then what – Bobbbc will see ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, May 7: The Darjeeling district administration today granted permission to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha to hold a rally in Sukna tomorrow despite stiff resistance from the anti-Gorkhaland outfits in the plains who have decided to oppose it tooth and nail.
The permission for the rally at the BB Gurung Memorial High School grounds, around 10km from here, came in the evening.
This is supposed to be the second largest public meeting of the Morcha to be held in the plains. After the first one was held at Indira Gandhi Maidan on the outskirts of Siliguri in July 2008, the administration had refused to allow the hill party to hold any rallies in the plains citing law and order problems.
“We have received the permission from the subdivisional office in Kurseong to hold the public meeting,” said Raju Pradhan, the assistant general secretary of the Morcha. “Our party president Bimal Gurung, general secretary Roshan Giri and all other top leaders will address the meeting, scheduled to start at 11am.”
Kurseong subdivisional officer Suden Tshering Bhutia has confirmed that the permission has been granted.
According to Pradhan, the meeting will be attended by Morcha workers and supporters of the Siliguri subdivision, that is, the town and the Terai region, with an expected audience of around 40,000.
The threat of a confrontation, however, continues to loom over the rally as Mukunda Majumdar, the president of the Bangla O Bangla Bhasha Banchao Committee, today iterated that it would organise a march to Sukna to voice protests and campaign against the statehood demand of the Morcha.
“We want to make it clear that police had once intercepted us at Dagapur on the outskirts of the town, but tomorrow there will be no stopping us. We are determined to walk up to Sukna and stop Bimal Gurung and his men from holding the meeting.
“We have been repeatedly telling the administration that the Morcha should not be granted permission to hold any public activity in the plains. Now that the administration has granted the permission, we have no other option but to take to the streets to vent our protests,” said Majumdar.
On February 4, when the Gorkha Janmukti Vidyarthi Morcha, the Morcha student wing, had resorted to road blockades at Darjeeling More after a police lathicharge, more than 300 Bhasha Committee members had marched towards Panchnoi with the intention of clearing the blockade.
However, the police had prevented the confrontation by stopping the Bhasha Committee protesters at Dagapur.
Morcha leaders, however, are firm about making their rally a success.
“We do not have any clue about what the Bhasha Banchao is planning,” Pradhan said. “Moreover, it is for the police and the administration to take care of law and order as we, being a political party, have the right to organise public meetings.”
The rally is significant for the Morcha. For unlike the meeting at Indira Gandhi Maidan where people from the hills had come as well, the rally this time is only for the people of Siliguri subdivision, where the party is yet to prove its clout.
“It is definitely a challenge for the Morcha leadership to prove their support base in the Terai and they will desperately try to bring in as many supporters as possible,” a political observer said.
Moreover, the Morcha will in all probability use this meeting to voice its displeasure and announce new plans in the wake of the state government’s hint that it would like to involve other political formations in the next round of hill talks.
The Madan Tamang-led ABGL, GNLF and the CPRM in the hills and the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad in the plains have welcomed the government’s move.
The Morcha wants some parts of the Dooars where the Gorkhas are in majority and the Terai, besides Darjeeling district, to be brought under an interim set-up for the hills. The geographical boundary for the new set-up will define the shape for Gorkhaland, which the Morcha wants in the long run.
Sources in the government said since there are other political outfits in the areas the Morcha wants, it is only fair to include the them in the talks.
State urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya said the next round of talks might be held in the first week of June. “Considering the civic polls, I have asked the chief secretary and the home secretary to request the Centre to hold the talks on the first week of June,” the minister said.
The threat from the Bhasha Committee has put the police on their toes.
“We will deploy adequate forces at all important road crossings and routes. There will be mobile police teams at strategic locations. The district commando force will be deployed along with the district police,” said Gaurav Sharma, the additional superintendent of police of Siliguri.
Census to ask for caste label – Centre accepts Opposition demand – good idea in a Secular India, or pure Statistical Curiosity ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
New Delhi, May 7: Caste will be included in the ongoing census after nearly 80 years, though a formal announcement has yet to be made.
Sources said the government had given a discreet indication about conceding the Opposition demand, which was supported by many in the ruling Congress.
The cabinet will now finalise the decision and work out the modalities for the historic step. Eight censuses have taken place since 1931, seven of them in independent India, but not a single one of them has covered caste.
Cabinet ministers and senior leaders revealed in off-the-record conversations that listing of caste would be done in the ongoing census but analysis of the data would have to wait.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in Parliament: “The home minister has made a detailed statement on census. I am aware of the views of the members of Parliament belonging to all sections. I assure you that the cabinet will take a decision shortly.”
Opposition MPs had failed to take the hint from the home minister’s reply to yesterday’s Lok Sabha debate on including caste in the census and created a ruckus.
Palaniappan Chidambaram had been misunderstood as he had listed the difficulties in including caste. But he had also said: “A number of arguments and reasons have been given in favour of caste. They will be a valuable guide to the government.”
As the House assembled at 2.30pm after the break, the Prime Minister’s guarded statement mollified agitated members. They were also told about the government’s plan at a meeting called by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.
The cabinet had taken up the matter a few days back and decided to continue discussions in the backdrop of the reluctance of a section of the Congress leadership to succumb to Opposition pressure when the census had already begun.
Although a cabinet decision is awaited, the Opposition was today celebrating a battle won and burst into an unusual chorus to hail the government.
Leaders of different parties praised Manmohan Singh and the leader of the Lok Sabha, Mukherjee. The effusive response left no doubt about the impending cabinet decision.
If Samajwadi leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and RJD counterpart Lalu Prasad expressed deep faith in the Prime Minister, their rival and JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav saluted Singh for “a large-hearted approach”. Even BJP leader Gopinath Munde was generous in applause.
When Sonia Gandhi entered the House, Lalu and Mulayam intervened to say “credit should be given to Soniaji too”.
Sonia shook her head and pointed to Mukherjee, indicating where credit was due. Other government sources too revealed that it was Mukherjee who had convinced Sonia.
Several times in the law courts the government has had to explain its position on caste-based reservation by clarifying that it does not have contemporary data and depends on the information collected in the British-held census of 1931.
Even after the announcement of the 27 per cent reservation for the Other Backward Classes during the tenure of UPA I, the government had to concede in court the absence of recent data.
Course shift protest in hills – Bengal still so politically obstinate, but why ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Kalimpong, May 7: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s four frontal organisations today enforced a five-hour pen-down strike in the subdivisional office here to protest the shifting of a library science course from Kalimpong Janata College to Siliguri.
Representatives of the four organisations — the Janmukti Secondary Teachers’ Organisation, Gorkha Primary Teachers’ Organisation, Janmukti Karmachari Sangathan and the Janmukti Asthai Karmachari Sangathan — reached the subdivisional office before 10am to enforce the strike.
Since the agitating organisations had issued a prior notice on the strike, the employees had not turned up for duty. When The Telegraph visited the office in the afternoon, it wore a deserted look.
Hari Dahal, the Kalimpong unit secretary of the JSTO, said the organisations have called for an hour-long chakka jam in town from 11am tomorrow and on Sunday. “We will continue with our protest till the director of library services rolls back his order to shift the college from here to Siliguri,” he added.
A delegation of the four organisations met Darjeeling MP Jaswant Singh, who is in town, last night and apprised him of the developments. “Mr Singh gave us a patient hearing and said he would take up the matter with the appropriate authorities,” said Dahal.
The directorate of library services had decided to shift the 16th batch of the library science course from Janata College to the additional district library in Siliguri citing the “present administrative turmoil in Darjeeling”.
A letter sent by the director of library services to the secretary of the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad and the district library officer of Jalpaiguri reads: “The government has decided that one training course may be organised at additional district library, Siliguri instead of Kalimpong People’s (Janata) College, due to the present administrative turmoil in Darjeeling.”
Even though the opening paragraph talks only about shifting one course (library science), the subsequent content of the letter says “the courses” may be organised in Siliguri “until and unless the situation of DGHC area of Darjeeling becomes normal”. (meaning ?!!)
Hills ailing, tourists turn other way – Rock garden destroyed & ropeway defunct – and Subhash Ghising, quietly alone in Bengal’s exile without apologies … sad ?!!
BY VIVEK CHHETRI
Darjeeling, May 7: Brand Darjeeling has failed to deliver, tour operators feel.
The looming Himalayas are still there and so are the tea gardens carpeting the verdant slopes and the tiny train negotiating the breathtaking loops, but all of them are either suffering from too much exploitation without an infrastructure to tackle it, or too little leaving much to be tapped.
Rock garden and Gangamaya Park have been consigned to the pages of history following the devastating landslide caused by Cyclone Aila last year. The Darjeeling Rangeet Valley Ropeway has not reopened since the fatal accident on October 19, 2003, in which three cabins jumped the cable, killing four tourists.
Visits to tea gardens depend on luck, while stay in the colonial garden bungalows is almost impossible. The famed Darjeeling Himalayan Railway has failed to live up to its expectation as an international tourist attraction.
“In the mornings, we take the tourists to Tiger Hills and a monastery in Ghoom. This is followed by a train ride and visits to Darjeeling zoo, Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and the Tibetan Refugee Centre. The second day is reserved for a tea garden visit, which depends on a lot of factors,” said Periwal.
Till a few months ago, gardens did not allow visitors to enter their factory. “Visiting a garden to see the manufacturing process entirely depends on luck as the management might suddenly decide against allowing any visitors.”
The DHR was not able to operate its steam engines recently because of poor quality of coal. “Apart from the bare minimum facilities, the DHR has nothing to flaunt,” said a visibly upset Periwal.
Nobody is sure why the ropeway has not yet been reopened. A WBFDC official said the repair of the ropeway had been completed and the matter lies with PWD. “The matter has even reached the chief minister and the chief secretary’s desk. We are unaware of the final decision,” said a forest official.
Tea garden officials agree that many estates wanting to use their bungalows for tourism have either not received all required permissions or have developed a cold feet because of the political turmoil in the hills.
Only three gardens, Tamsong, Ghoomti and Glenburn, have opened up to tourism. “But these estates have only 4-6 rooms each, which is insufficient to meet the demands,” said a tour operator.
One of Darjeeling’s biggest attraction, a trek to Sandakphu — the only place on the earth from where four peaks above 8,000 meters, Mt. Everest, Mt Kanchenjunga, Mt Lotse and Mt Makalu — can be viewed, has failed to tap its potential.
Once Singalila, where Sandakphu is located, was declared a national park, the forest department ordered that trekkers could not pitch a tent in the area. (and why in heaven’s sake ?!!) “What is the charm if the trekkers can’t stay in tents?” asked Periwal.
(Bengal at fault or the promoters weary ?!!)
The lack of a specific tourism policy is hitting Darjeeling hard. The Telegraph has found that every work related to tourism brings a host of state departments in play, like the DGHC, tourism, forest, PWD and land and land reforms (for tea gardens). “Yes, a single window system for addressing all tourism-related issues is the only solution,” said a tour operator.
Many have suggested that state should form a specific board for the Darjeeling hills, which would include the district magistrate, principal secretaries of all the tourism-related departments and the DGHC so that the irritants can be removed. “Even if the heads of all the departments meet twice a year, a lot of issues can be solved,” said another tour operator.
AND FROM THE DARJEELING PLAINS
Trinamul banners flaunt Sonia – gaining political mileage, no backlash ?!!
BY MAIN UDDIN CHISTI
Cooch Behar, May 7: The Congress is upset over the way Trinamul Congress banners and graffiti seeking votes for the Dinhata civic polls are flaunting the name and pictures of Sonia Gandhi, even after Mamata Banerjee announced the break-up of the alliance of the two parties.
The banners, which have pictures of Mamata and Sonia as well, carry the message that the Trinamul candidates are fighting for the anti-Left alliance.
In Ward 9 in Dinhata’s Gopalnagar, Trinamul nominee Aparna Dey has not stopped with putting up the banners that flaunt Sonia. A graffito, painted on the walls Trinamul leader Parthana Sarkar’s house, too, states that Dey is a candidate belonging to the Congress-Trinamul alliance.
“But the alliance has not taken place. It had been decided earlier that we would field candidates in five wards and Trinamul in the remaining 10. However, when Mamata Banerjee backed out from the alliance, her party fielded candidates in all 15 wards of the Dinhata municipality and now they have the cheek to flaunt our party president, Sonia Gandhi, in their banners,” said district secretary of the Congress Keshab Roy.
Congress sources said the party did not retaliate by fielding candidates in all the 15 seats simply because it did not have suitable candidates in the predominantly Left bastion. However, in the last Assembly election, the Dinhata seat was won by Trinamul, although the municipality is under the Left Front since 1977.
Roy said what was being indulged in by Trinamul was “unethical” and he had already drawn the attention of the state leadership of the Congress to it.
Trinamul leaders, were however, not willing to say much on the subject. “I do not want to comment on the alliance (or the breaking). We have fielded candidates in all the wards after instructions from the leadership. I have no knowledge if any of our candidates have put up banners saying that they were part of the alliance,” said Ashok Mondol, the party’s MLA from Dinhata and a candidate for the municipal elections.
A Trinamul leader, not wanting to be named, said if Didi came to know about the banner, the consequences would not be pleasant. “She will haul up the candidate and ask her to remove the banners immediately,” he said.
The leader said in Dinhata, a pact had been agreed upon well before Mamata took a decision. “There are party members who were sure that they would be alliance candidates and got their banner printed well before Didi said anything. That is why the banners have been put up,” he said.
But the Congress is not willing to take things lightly. “This is a conspiracy to capture Congress votes by displaying Sonia Gandhi’s photo. Such lies will not be tolerated,” said Roy.
Mamata men sore at ‘shabby’ rail office – and correctly so, no alliances ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, May 7: Lack of infrastructure and absence of regular employees and adequate furniture at the Railway Recruitment Board office here annoyed a visiting Trinamul Congress delegation today.
The RRB office was inaugurated amid fanfare by railway minister and Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee at Bagrakote here on October 30.
Gautam Deb, a member of the zonal railway users’ consultative committee of the Northeast Frontier Railway and the president of the Darjeeling district Trinamul, led the five-member delegation to the Bagrakote office after informing the divisional railway manager at Katihar — that governs the Siliguri RRB — over the phone. But the shabby condition of the centre made them unhappy.
The Trinamul delegation that arrived at the Bagrakote office after 11am was closeted with Dilip Mukherjee, the senior divisional engineer of the NFR posted in Katihar, for more than an hour.
“Residents of Siliguri, especially the unemployed youths of the region, have a lot of expectations from the RRB office here and considering it, we requested the railway officials to take necessary steps so that it starts functioning properly,” Deb told journalists after the visit.
When the office was inaugurated, it was announced that its staff strength would be at least 10-12 including a chairman and an assistant secretary, a senior Trinamul leader said. “But only two employees were present at the office today. The chairman hardly comes to the Bagrakote centre and mostly remains in New Jalpaiguri, so do his clerical staff. The shabby rooms — without any furniture and shut windows — greeted us when we visited the office.”
During the meeting with the railway official, Deb handed him a list of demands that included the construction of a boundary wall, lights on the office premises, installation of computers with Internet and adequate furniture to upgrade the infrastructure. The Trinamul leader also asked him to remove encroachers from its premises and appoint regular employees to man the office.
The railway official tried to pacify the Trinamul leaders by assuring them that steps to upgrade the infrastructure would be taken within a week.
“As we are going to shift the office from Bagrakote to Tikiapara, which is closer to Siliguri Town station, we did not spend much on this centre,” Mukherjee told journalists after the meeting today. “The new RRB centre will be built on 400sqm for Rs 90 lakh. Work will begin within the next couple of months.”
The official, however, denied that the railways were neglecting the Bagrakote office. “Already 14 posts have been sanctioned and most of the staff will join soon,” he said.