At an event where she honoured five journalists by naming roads and community halls after them, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee brought up the issue of Darjeeling once more. “Banglake bhaag hote debo na (I will not let Bengal be divided),” said the Chief Minister in a strong statement on Saturday at the event at Bartaman Bhavan, the main office of Bartaman newspaper on Saturday. Banerjee further made serious allegations against Gorkha Janmukti Morcha saying that they were backed by “terrorists” and that they had kidnapped several reporters.
“We are here to honour these great journalists. Every day journalists put their lives at risk to cover news. In Darjeeling police officers are being beaten up and so are reporters. Reporters are being kidnapped, kept hostage and while in hostage being told (by the morcha) that only what they (the morcha) say should be aired,” she said.
GJM chief Bimal Gurung was clearly on the Chief Minister’s mind. While she was honouring one of the five (late) journalists, she called him Bimal Gurung by mistake, quickly rectifying herself. Banerjee attended the event with senior TMC leaders and ministers including Sovan Chatterjee, Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Sadhan Pandey and two North Bengal ministers Gautam Deb and Rabindranath Ghosh.
“I have done many andolans myself. If it was a matter of just stone pelting it would have been different. But they have caches of arms. If they had just told me politely, I would have discussed with them. As I have told you before, if you even want me to come to your home and wash dishes I can even do that, as long as you ask me nicely. But if you are going to threaten me with guns, I want you to know that I have the capability of snatching your guns away (banduk kere neoar khomota rakhi ami). Eta shahosher Larai (this is a fight of courage). I will give my life if need be, but I will not let them break Bengal,” said the Chief Minister at the event.
Earlier in the day, Banerjee held meetings with the chief secretary, DGP and also with the chairmen of the 15 development boards that the TMC government had set up ahead of the 2016 assembly elections. Banerjee had set up different development boards for different communities in the hills (such as the Lepcha and the Tamang development boards) and had been subject to severe criticism from the Morcha which said that the boards were Banerjee’s divisive politics and her attempt to divide the Gorkhas. The boards were to be given funds separately by the state government to carry out developmental work. The Morcha called this unconstitutional as it is the GTA that is responsible for administrative and development work in the Darjeeling Hills.
At the press conference, Banerjee paraded all 15 chairmen before the media and had them send messages for restoring peace in Nepali. “Protesters) aren’t listening to the court also, the court passed order saying bandh is illegal. I don’t know from where they are getting support. Five years you (GJM) enjoyed. Now when the elections are coming you start violence because you have lost credentials,” said Banerjee at the press conference. The GTA’s term ended today and the authority was to go into elections. The state election commission had not however announced these elections. The chief minister had earlier said that the GTA could function legally under an administrator before elections had to mandatorily be announced.
“Where did they get illegal arms and money from? These arms were not collected in a day, they were collected over a period of time. They have connections to underground insurgents of the North East. I request these insurgents to stop supporting them. There are some other countries involved, but I don’t want to reveal here. We share borders with other states, and also have international borders, and this is not difficult. I request my brothers and sisters in the hills to not support the terrorists and not support a movement driven by them. They are trying to sell off the hills,” said Banerjee. The chief minister then said that she was willing to hold discussions, but only if the bandh is called off. She further said that she has called an all party meet on the 22nd of this month.