BJP's forked tongue and playing footsie with demands to divide Bengal is dangerous
Despite BJP President JP Nadda ruling out any division of West Bengal, the party’s MLAs and separatist organisations continue to stoke the demands
It’s not every day that a wanted terrorist surrounded by gun-toting cronies in battle fatigue from the jungles of Myanmar issues a threat to an elected Chief Minister in India.
But that’s exactly what Tamir Das alias Jibon Singha, chief of the banned Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), did earlier this month. He sent a video message to Mamata Banerjee warning her of a “bloodbath” if she set foot in the northern districts of West Bengal where the KLO wants to carve out a separate state, which would also include parts of Assam.
Shockingly, Singha named three Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Members of Parliament – Nisith Paramanik (Cooch Behar), Jayanta Roy (Jalpaiguri) and John Barla (Alipurduar) as promoters and facilitators of the separate Koch-Kamtapur state. And even more shockingly, Roy separately endorsed Singh’s demand as “legitimate” instead of ticking off the terrorist for taking his name.
If anyone still had doubts about KLO-BJP nexus, they were quickly dispelled by Singha branding West Bengal government “bahiragata”, or “outsider”, in the video – a charge Banerjee had hurled at Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Yogi Adityanath and other BJP leaders during last year’s assembly elections to rally Bengalis to reject outlanders.
Banerjee called the KLO-BJP bluff, toured north Bengal according to the itinerary finalised before Singha’s issued the threat – and fearlessly declared that she would shed even the last drop of her blood to stop the division of Bengal. The bottom-line is that an overwhelming majority of West Bengal’s population wants the state to remain intact and not parcelled out along ethnic or linguist lines. There are hardly any buyers for BJP’s argument that new states would result in faster development. The common man scoffs at BJP’s advice to Banerjee to create new states instead of new districts for speedier growth.
Importantly, at long last, BJP president J. P. Nadda seems to have put his finger on the pulse of ordinary Bengalis. A week after Singha’s video message and cacophonic endorsement by BJP MPs and MLAs of Koch-Kamtapur state - comprising six districts of north Bengal (Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin Dinajpur and Malda) and four districts of lower Assam (Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Dhubri and Goalpara) – Nadda categorically told his flock during his last visit to Calcutta to stop clamouring for division of West Bengal.
It’s another matter that within 48 hours of Nadda’s instructions, Kurseong BJP MLA Bishnu Prasad Sharma broached Union Territory status for Darjeeling! The BJP is clearly torn between respecting public opinion and stoking separatism for electoral gains.
Koch-Rajbanshis, numbering around 3.3 million and accounting for 30 percent of voters in the proposed Koch-Kamtapur state, are the largest Scheduled Caste (SC) community who hold the key to north Bengal. The BJP won 30 out of 54 assembly seats in north Bengal last year and seven out of eight Lok Sabha seats in 2019.
The BJP MPs Singha named, obviously want to keep the pot simmering in the electorally fertile region by backing statehood aspirations – but Nadda – at least for now – doesn’t want to gamble.
Last month, another BJP MP demanded a separate Jangalmahal state comprising Bankura, Purulia, Paschim Medinipur and Jhargram districts which were once a Naxalite hotbed necessitating massive Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) deployment.
Not content with just four districts, Saumitra Khan, BJP MP from Bishnupur, subsequently included Birbhum district and Bardhaman district’s Asansol sub-division in the proposed state! He justified carving out Junglemahal state on the ground that its raw materials are being used to develop other parts of West Bengal but the resource-rich region itself is languishing and lagging behind on every front, especially jobs.
There is a long history of the Centre fanning separatism in West Bengal. Since the Emergency, the same party hasn’t been in power in New Delhi and Calcutta. In the 1980s, demand was raised for a separate Gorkhaland in Darjeeling Hills. Subhash Ghisingh led the violent Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), but Jyoti Basu marshalled all his political skills to deftly defuse an explosive situation.
Finally in August 1988, the Union government, state government and GNLF signed a tripartite agreement establishing the semi-autonomous Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC). But the region remained a bone of contention between the Centre and West Bengal. Another tripartite agreement was inked in 2011 between the Centre, state government and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) – a new version of GNLF – resulting in the creation of the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA).
And since 2014, the BJP is fishing in troubled waters in Darjeeling, north Bengal and Junglemahal. Its strategy to teach West Bengal a lesson for defying it is not confined to attempting to redraw the state’s political map. BJP is even rewriting history to rob and strip Bengalis of the glory they take great pride in.
So far, by all accounts the freedom movement, India’s first war of independence started in Barrackpore – on the outskirts of Calcutta – on March 29, 1857. But the BJP government now insists that it started in Meerut on May 31, 1857! The objective is to humble West Bengal and take it down a notch to break its spirit.
(The writer is former Deputy Editor of Outlook and was one of the targets of Pegasus spyware attacks on journalists)