HT, 4 Jul 2016, SILIGURI: The demand for the formation of a separate Siliguri district and chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s stance against it might prove costly for the Trinamool in Siliguri and its surroundings where the party has been facing electoral defeats.
For years, the Brihatar Siliguri Nagarik Manch (BSNM) has been demanding the creation of a separate Siliguri district carved out of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts. The Manch has been mobilising people’s opinion and recently met the state sports and youth affairs minister Arup Biswas.
Mamata, who is well aware of the demand, has categorically ruled out the formation of a Siliguri district. The state government has already decided to form five new districts, including Kalimpong, now a sub-division of Darjeeling district.
Ratan Banik, secretary of the Manch, said, “When Kalimpong with three lakh population can be upgraded to a district, why not Siliguri and its surrounding areas which have a population of more than seven lakh?”
The Manch’s proposed Siliguri district has five Assembly seats: Siliguri, Matigara-Naxalbari, Phasidewa, Rajganj and DabgramFulbari. Siliguri, MatigaraNaxalbari and Phasidewa Assembly seats fall under Siliguri subdivision of Darjeeling district while Rajganj and DabgramFulbari falls under Jalpaiguri district. The area, as per the 2011 census. has almost seven lakh population. Banik also said that the proposed Jhargram district has a population of only two lakh and Siliguri fulfils all the criteria to be a separate district.
Though the state government’s decision to form a separate Kalimpong district was politically motivated and would provide political dividend to the TMC in one way or the other, the formation of Siliguri district is not that simple.
“If a separate Siliguri district is formed, the remaining parts of Darjeeling district (three hill subdivisions) would one day or other break away from the state. The TMC leaders feel this move would mean giving a free hand to those agitating for creation of separate Gorkhaland state. If the demand for Siliguri district is conceded, Gorkhaland agitation in the Hills will get intensified thus making it easier for those propagating for separate state to campaign for their cause,” said a TMC leader.
The Mamata Banerjee government cannot take the risk of sacrificing the Queen of the Hills through this move.
The TMC leaders also believe that in case the state government agrees with the demand for a Siliguri district, it will face stiff opposition from people and pressure groups in Jalpaiguri. It was only two years ago that a separate Alipurduar district was created by bifurcating Jalpaiguri district. The Jalpaiguri lobby would never allow more areas of the district to go out of its hands, said a senior TMC leader in Jalpaiguri.
However, the desperation of the TMC to gain electoral mileage in Siliguri subdivision leaves the party with little choice. The party lost all the three Assembly seats in Siliguri, Matigara- Naxalbari and Phasidewa. The party also lost the Siliguri Municipal Corporation and Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad elections last year.
Under such circumstances, it is being closely observed how the CM will handle the demand for the creation of a Siliguri district. The movement is rapidly becoming a popular issue and the TMC just cannot ignore it. Meanwhile, the TMC Darjeeling-Pulbazar block committee has decided to intensify its movement for the upgrade of Darjeeling-Pulbazar block in Darjeeling into a subdivision.