BJP in covert collusion with separatists rooting for division of north Bengal

It is a carefully thought out ploy to cut into the vote bank of the Trinamool Congress stretching over extensive swathes of Jalpaiguri, Coochbehar, Darjeeling and Malda

File picture of a BJP election rally
File picture of a BJP election rally

Tirthankar Mitra

Even as the panchayats elections in the state are inching closer, north Bengal is in the news for the wrong reasons, with the demand for a separate state or Union Territory resurfacing.

The present scenario, however, differs from the one which arose last year when BJP MP John Barla and MLAs Anandamoy Barman and Sikha Chatterjee demanded that north Bengal be declared as a Union Territory. This time, it was Greater Coochbehar People's Association (GCPA) leader Ananta Rai who has voiced an identical demand.

Even as the saffron camp in the state seeks to distance itself from a demand which faces strong opposition from a large section of the populace of a once partitioned state, the BJP has not been able to cover up its complicity in this matter.

A meeting between Rai and Nisith Pramanik, Union minister of state and Coochbehar MP, preceding Rai's announcement of the demand, is a clear pointer to the nudge and wink affair.

In so many words, it is a carefully thought out ploy to cut into the vote bank of the Trinamool Congress stretching over extensive swathes of Jalpaiguri, Coochbehar, Darjeeling and Malda. This mainly comprises of Rajbanshis, if one seeks to zero in on to a particular community of voters.

The Koch-Rajbanshis had been a steadfast vote bank of the Left before they shifted allegiance to the TMC in 2011. But in 2019, after the BJP made its presence felt in North Bengal on the strength of Rajbanshi votes, their support emerged as a deciding factor.

This is clearly a saffron camp game plan to polarise the political atmosphere of the state ahead of the crucial rural polls next year.

The GCPA leader's assertion that declaration of Union Territory status for Coochbehar is just a matter of time has also triggered both hope and apprehension.

While Rai's contention has been rubbished by TMC leaders, the state government’s invitation to Rai, better known as Ananta Maharaj, to the inaugural ceremony of 210th Rash Mela in Coochbehar, lends credence to his position and demand. Few in the ruling dispensation can deny that it was a reaching out gesture to a political opponent who cannot be ignored.

Prominent state BJP leaders including state party president, Sukanta Majumdar and leader of the Opposition, Suvendu Adhikari are yet to support the demand for Union Territory of Coochbehar. For they are only too aware that in doing so, they will dynamite the voter bank of saffron camp, comprising other communities who are chary of another partition.

Even Hooghly MP and yesteryear heroine Locket Chatterjee has rubbished the separate statehood/Union Territory demand. If her words cannot be reconciled with those of Barla, Barman and Chatterjee, it is an instance of political double speak.

It may be mentioned that BJP MP Soumitra Khan’s demand for the creation of Junglemahal as a separate region did not receive Subhendu Adhikari's support. The coincidences are piling up into enemy action.

Some political observers feel that the BJP plans to deploy the formula by which it separated Ladakh from Jammu and Kashmir. Only in this case, the state government will remain untouched.

However, the TMC dispensation cannot wish away the fact that Rai holds sway over a section of Koch-Rajbabanshi community and claims to have 18 lakh followers. If TMC and BJP turned a deaf ear to his demand earlier, it can no longer afford to do so.

In sum, after its big loss in 2021 state Assembly elections, the BJP seeks to get politically even with the TMC. Given its professed declaration of not toppling elected state governments, the next best option to weaken the TMC dispensation is to chalk out a game plan to "reduce the state".

To attain its end, a section of the BJP’s leadership is in cahoots with GCPA leader Rai and stoking Rajbanshis sentiment.

Another upshot to the situation is in the Congress support to the TMC Trinamool on this issue. Strongly opposing the creation of a Union Territory carved out of West Bengal, state Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, “If the people of north Bengal have problems, it is the job of the state government to address it”.

As the situation simmers, the saffron leadership seems to have overlooked the fact that the demand for a Union Territory dismembering the state can backfire on them. The wounds of 1947 partition have healed but the scars remain.

It is also evident that once the panchayat polls are over, the issues of Greater Coochbehar, Gorkhaland and Junglemahal will go into hibernation till the next round of elections.

(IPA Service)

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