It’s a tale of two “messiahs” from two entirely different ideological poles. For almost a fortnight, Jaswant Singh has kept the picturesque Darjeeling hills spellbound. He draws the hysteric shouts of “Jai Gorkha, Jai Gorkhaland,” every time he vows, in his characteristic baritone: “I’ve come all the way from the deserts of Rajasthan to fight for you.”
And in the flatland of North Bengal, it is Meghalaya strongman P A Sangma who has caught the imagination of Rajbanshis, who like the Gorkhas, want a homeland of their own within the Indian Union. “Sangma sahib is trying to get our candidate from Cooch Behar freed on parole,” says Greater Coochbehar Democratic Party (GCDP) general secretary Phanindranath Burman.
GCDP nominee Bansibadan Burman has been languishing in prison for three years in connection with clashes that broke out in Cooch Behar in September 2005. Three policemen, including an additional SP, and two civilians had died in the violence. For some years, GCDP has been campaigning for a separate Rajbanshi state comprising the territories of the erstwhile Cooch Behar kingdom spread over Lower Assam and North Bengal.
There was considerable sensation in Cooch Behar on Sunday when the former Lok Sabha Speaker went to meet Bansibadan at Cooch Behar Correctional Home along with a lawyer. “The NCP leaders say our candidate must get a chance to campaign in the polls. We’ll move a higher court for Bansibadan’s release,” says Phanindranath. Cooch Behar is a Scheduled Caste constituency that has been with Forward Bloc (FB) since 1977.
On his way to New Delhi via Siliguri, Sangma attended a meeting of Kamtapur Progressive Party (KPP) in Moynaguri, a part of the Jalpaiguri seat reserved for Scheduled Castes. KPP, an ally of GJM and GCDP, has been fighting for a Kamtapur state for Rajbanshis living in North Bengal. NCP has fielded Dhirendranath Das in Jalpaiguri that has a huge Rajbanshi population. Last month, the state government had banned a similar meeting at Moynaguri where KPP had invited Sangma and GJM chief Bimal Gurung.
Sangma supports the Rajbanshis’ demand for constitutional recognition of their language. “He is also sympathetic to our statehood demand,” says Phanindranath. “We want a state comprising areas that were merged with the Indian Union by the rulers of Cooch Behar in 1949,” he adds. Stepping up their campaign, Rajbanshi activists have floated Greater Koch United Front that includes All Assam Koch Rajbanshi Union, GCDP and KPP.
The Garo stalwart’s association with KPP and GCDP hasn’t gone down well with ruling Marxists who accuse them of having links with the outlawed Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) and Ulfa. They have advised GJM to stay away from KPP and KLO.
“But we have no links with KLO,” says KPP chief Atul Roy, who supports BJP in Darjeeling. On the government’s stand that Bengalis and Rajbanshis are one people, he adds, “We want the government to study anthropology to know the differences between these two communities.” Urban development minister and CPM leader Asok Bhattacharya, who is busy leading his party’s campaign against Jaswant, warns: “Divisive forces are trying to turn North Bengal into another North-East.”
Another factor that has rubbed the Marxists the wrong way is the Rajbanshi leadership’s stand on the region’s demography. Following in the footsteps of Assam-based anti-infiltration parties, GCDP also wants March 25, 1971, as the cut-off year for detection of foreigners. GJM and BJM have also lately expressed concern about the impact of the alleged Bangladeshi influx on North Bengal’s population pattern. “The government shouldn’t give citizenship to people who entered the country after March 25, 1971,” remarks Phanindranath. “The Left has done nothing so far. Since 1977, about 4 lakh people have left our district to do menial jobs elsewhere in the country. Over 95% of them are Rajbanshis,” Phanindranath claims.
Sangma, observers say, shifted his focus to North Bengal after the announcement of the general elections that coincided with the fall of the NCP-led Meghalaya Progressive Alliance government in his home state. Despite his opposition, the Centre imposed President’s Rule in Meghalaya a day after the alliance won a trust vote in the Assembly on March 17. What upset him more was the failure of NCP’s central leadership to take up the issue with the Manmohan Singh government.
He also approached BJP leader L K Advani for support. Following this, Sangma announced that he would campaign for “good non-Congress candidates” across the North-East and North Bengal. He also mobilised people in Darjeeling district and Sikkim.
“Sangma is looking for more clout so that he can bargain with his party. At the moment, he seems to have been marginalized within NCP,” remarks a Marxist leader.
The Left Front in Jalpaiguri has warned the people against separatist forces’ move to divide the region’s working class and peasants in the name of Gorkhaland, Kamtapur and Greater Cooch Behar. But Sangma’s supporters think otherwise because of his “ethnic affinity” with Nepalis and Rajbanshis. “He can raise our issues in Delhi. He will be back in North Bengal on April 26. If we win, our candidate will support NCP at the Centre,” says Phanindranath.
source: The Times Of India