A statehood movement is building up in Jangalmahal, the forested area in the western part of Bengal, a BJP leader has claimed days after a couple of his party colleagues demanded that a separate Union Territory be carved out of north Bengal. But while Jangalmahal lies over the districts of Purulia, Bankura and Jhargram, BJP MP Soumitra Khan has said the demand for statehood has spilled over to other districts as well. His list includes Birbhum, Burdwan, Asansol, East and West Midnapore.
The state’s ruling Trinamool Congress has accused BJP of brewing trouble after failing to come to power in the state in the recently concluded assembly elections. Party spokesperson Kunal Ghosh has called it “irresponsible gameplan by the BJP”.
The BJP has a strong base in north Bengal that bucked the trend in the recent assembly election and voted for the party. In the recent elections, the BJP had also focussed on Jangalmahal, which was part of the Maoist corridor during the first term of the Mamata Banerjee government.
Several BJP leaders have already spoken of a broader statehood demand in north Bengal, which has seen the Gorkhaland agitation since the 1980s.
On June 15, a couple of BJP MPs flagged a controversial demand to carve out a Union Territory comprising several districts of North Bengal during a closed-door meeting of party MP for Alipurduar, John Barla.
“I made the demand … there have been movements here for a separate Kamtapuri, a greater Cooch Behar and for Gorkhaland,” John Barla was quoted as saying by news agency Press Trust of India. “My belief is that North Bengal should be detached and made into a separate union territory,” Mr Barla had said, alleging that the entire area is being neglected by the government.
The BJP’s Bengal unit, however, officially denied making any such demands. Party state president Dilip Ghosh said his party does not have any such agenda and attempts are being made by the Trinamool Congress to malign the BJP.
The issue sparked a sharp reaction from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who said she would not allow any part of Bengal to “lose its freedom and be dependent on New Delhi”.
Partition is an emotive issue in Bengal, which had to deal with the first during the British period and the second during Independence when Bangladesh formed. Mamata Banerjee has vowed she would not allow a third.
Former Chief Minister Jyoti Basu had also managed to quell the Gorkhaland agitation, coming to a settlement with the protesting groups to preserve their cultural identity.