Millennium Post

How Didi wooed Jangalmahal

Even the worst critics of Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal have to admit that in two major areas of administration, the party has brought about a major improvement in governance: the troubled north Bengal hills and the insurgency-prone Jangalmahal region.  

It is a sign of the political ineptitude of the party’s leaders that they never highlight what is in all senses a major achievement! During the last days of the Left front government in 2010-2011, it seemed that Darjeeling hills were very close to becoming a separate state. As for parts of the southern districts again, there was hardly any administration. In both areas, state government offices including
were non-functional, sometimes unattended. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) in the north and the Maoists in the south called the tune.

Here, TMC’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has politically outscored her Marxist opponents. For all their lofty pro-poor rhetoric, Left, particularly CPI(M) leaders, never bothered to  take on the GJM  or the Maoists head on. Former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, a victim of politically inchoate thinking, stopped visiting the affected areas altogether. Worse, his party also shot its bolt, senior leaders deserting their posts and retreating to the relative comforts of Kolkata. The usual Left explanation was, ‘These are serious ethnicity related problems, they have to be handled carefully.’ Actually, it meant a total physical withdrawal, a total escape from a difficult situation.

Banerjee’s approach, to her credit, could not have been more different. Even while in opposition, she had the courage to visit both the troubled hills and the Maoist-controlled areas in the southwest of Bengal. Unlike Left leaders, she spoke to both GJM and Maoist leaders. This paid her rich dividends, in that both in the north and south, Leftists lost heavily in the Assembly elections.

Post the 2011 Assembly polls, Banerjee was careful enough to renew her links with the GJM and the Maoists. She could not keep her promises of development in full, but the state administration regained its lost territory, governance resumed. New grassroot level projects were initiated after a long break in both areas. Local people also responded readily. The Centre also helped with making special financial arrangements for the hills and Jangalmahal areas. Over Rs 200 crore were earmarked for the Darjeeling hills, while part of the Rs 8,700 crore allotted for backward areas development was spent in Jangalmahal. Net outcome: the intensity of the anti government agitation was significantly reduced!

It is not as though the areas have become problem-free. The GJM leadership have not given up their demand for a separate state. The Maoists have not stopped regrouping and holding secret meetings. Opposition parties also make much of the death in an encounter of Kishenji, the Maoist leader.

But the changing reality on the ground could not be denied. People could see that the GJM was now flush with official funds, at times even more than they had asked for. In the remote tribal areas in the southwest, rice was now available at Rs 2 a kilo, jobs were given for the families affected by violence in the police and other departments. Schools and shops reopened, cycles were distributed, and drinking water was being arranged.  There was a significant drop in the level of violence that plagued the state earlier. Tourism resumed, helping the local economy. Explosions, blockades, ambushes, disruptions were reduced to a minimum. Life came to normal in these trouble-prone areas, as normal as elsewhere in the state, for the first time since after several years.

No wonder the GJM’s latest efforts to stir up mass passions over the ‘separate state’ demand elicited little response in the hills. Also, unlike the non-functioning Left parties bereft of ideas, Banerjee reached out to other disaffected groups like the Lepchas and the Adivasis, cutting of the GJM’s dominance both in the hills and in the Terai-Dooars areas. The TMC set up its local units, and even managed to wean away sections of Gorkhas opposed to the GJM leadership. She had, in Maoist parlance, effectively ‘bombed the headquarters’ of the GJM.

No wonder now the GJM leaders, having threatened to quit the recently set up autonomous Gorkha Territorial Authority, have now announced that they would not do so. They have drawn a blank in the efforts to whip up trouble in the hills, where normalcy has returned and failed to secure any concessions from the Congress or the BJP. In Jangalmahal, the success of the state government’s initiative against the Maoists has prompted even Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, no admirer of Banerjee, to declare West Bengal as the ‘model state’ in combatting Maoist militancy.

Why TMC leaders, under fire from all directions for their otherwise poor administrative performance, in the rest of the state, do not highlight these achievements effectively remains a wonder for most observers! (IPA)
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