Pramod Giri, HT, 6 Jul 2016, SILIGURI: Surendrajeet Singh Ahluwalia has become the first Member of Parliament from Darjeeling since Independence to be inducted into the Union Cabinet. He was made minister of state for agriculture and farmers’ welfare and parliamentary affairs. He is the second minister from Bengal after Babul Supriyo.
The GJM, which is BJP’s alliance partner, has hailed the development as yet another move by the Modi government to give justice to the people of Darjeeling Hills and the Dooars region. GJM president Bimal Gurung said, “This is for the first time since Independence that any MP from Darjeeling has been inducted into the Union cabinet. It reflects the respect the BJP government has accorded to the people living in Darjeeling and the Dooars region.”
“With Ahluwalia joining the Union cabinet, the entire N Bengal region will find representation at the highest policy-making body,” added Gurung.
Ahluwalia had won the 2014 Lok Sabha election with GJM’s support. Gurung said, “Modi has shown his commitment towards the people of Darjeeling.” “We look forward to the day when all our long-pending demands will be finally fulfilled,” Gurung wrote on his Facebook page. For the GJM, the long-pending demand is the creation of separate state of Gorkhaland.
Ahluwalia is the second BJP Lok Sabha MP from Bengal to be inducted into the Union cabinet after Babul Supriyo, the Asansol MP. The BJP has two Lok Sabha MPs in Bengal.
Once known as a key member of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s ‘shouting brigade’ with Mamata Banerjee during the Bofors controversy, Ahluwalia was the Union minister of state for urban development and parliamentary affairs in the PV Narsimha Rao government in 1995. He has been a Rajya Sabha MP four times since 1986 and also occupied the post of BJP’s national vice-president.
The 65-year-old leader, who is a parliamentarian for the last 26 years, said his only vision is development. “I pray that the almighty gives me strength and direction to do my duty and serve my countrymen and constituents to the best of my ability,” Ahluwalia told Hindustan Times.
Praveen Agarwal, the BJP Siliguri district president said, “Ahluwalia’s induction into the cabinet will go a long way to strengthen the party in the region.” Ahluwalia, who prefers to debate in Parliament in Bengali on the matters related to Bengal, is one of the party’s key persons assigned by the party to work with the tea garden population. The BJP has won two assembly seats from north Bengal. Congratulating Ahluwalia, Siliguri mayor Asok Bhattacharya said, “We will support him if he supports us in getting development projects for Siliguri.”
State tourism minister Goutam Dev, who is also the Trinamool Congress Darjeeling district president, congratulated the BJP minister.
Ahluwalia’s cabinet berth a boost to GJM
Amitava Banerjee, HT, 6 Jul 2016, Kolkata: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet rejig and SS Ahluwalia, the BJP Lok Sabha MP from Darjeeling, securing a berth in the cabinet as minister of state, is going to give a fresh lease of life to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).
The reshuffle comes at a time when chief minister Mamata Banerjee has been nominating anti-GJM leaders in key positions in councils and boards under the government of West Bengal. This had definitely caused a lot of discomfort in the Morcha camp.
Political observers feel that Ahluwalia’s promotion will definitely provide a fresh lease of life to the Gorkhaland demand being towed by the GJM. Even GJM chief Bimal Gurung has been quick to react on this development congratulating Ahluwalia and thanking PM Modi for this decision. In a press release Gurung said, “PM Narendra Modi has shown his commitment towards the people of Darjeeling, and we look forward to the day when all our long-pending demands will finally be fulfilled.”
In recent times, opposition parties like the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and the Jan Andolan Party (JAP) have been making political inroads in the Hills, gnawing on the GJM’s support base. Though the GJM managed to retained all three Assembly seats in the elections, the winning margin has nosedived to 50% as compared to 2011 Assembly elections.
Backed by the GJM, BJP national vice-president SS Ahluwalia had managed a landslide victory from the Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency in 2014 riding piggyback on the Gorkhaland issue. Prior to this in 2009 MP elections also BJP frontrung leader Jaswant Singh had also won from Darjeeling constituency backed by the GJM on the Gorkhaland card.
BJP has always resorted to a balancing act around the Gorkhaland issue. While they have been vocal on this issue in the plains (however not uttering the word Gorkhaland but rephrasing it as a long standing demand of the Gorkhas) in the Hills, they have preferred to maintain a distance from the issue.
The BJP’s election manifesto for the parliamentary elections in 2009 and 2014 stated that they would sympathetically consider the long-standing demand of the Gorkhas. Modi during his election campaign for Ahluwalia near Siliguri in 2014 had claimed that the Gorkha’s dream is his dream. Last year , Ahluwalia in his address in Parliament had urged the government to constitute a committee to look into the demand of the Gorkhas.