02:11 GMT24 July 2021
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    North Bengal and its different tribes have been demanding separate administrative units to govern their respective regions for almost a century. The Bharatiya Janata Party's recent bid to stir up a frozen conflict had rattled the state chief, Mamata Banerjee.

    West Bengal's state chief slammed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for demanding that a separate Union Territory be carved out comprising several North Bengal districts.

    "We will never allow any further partition of Bengal. The proponents of such separate status should know that they will get a befitting reply from the people of the state," Banerjee claimed. 

    West Bengal was partitioned twice: first in 1905 and later in 1947 when Bangladesh was carved out of Bengal along religious lines.

    The demand by BJP lawmakers is seen as a bid to even political scores with Banerjee, after the nation's ruling party failed to win the recently-concluded state elections. At a closed-door meeting, a lawmaker from the saffron party in Alipurduar, John Barla, raised the demand for a separate Union Territory earlier this week.

    "I made the demand that there have been movements here for a separate Kamtapuri, a greater Cooch Behar and Gorkhaland. I believe that North Bengal should be detached and made into a separate union territory," Barla told reporters. The statement has given rise to fresh political controversy in the country.

    Raising the issue of the Chinese security threat, Banerjee added, "what does this central-controlled region mean? Does it mean they will sell out the land of Alipurduar, or Jalpaiguri, or Siliguri? On one hand, they talk so much about China and now, such demands are being raised". North Bengal is home to a critical military base.

    However, BJP leaders from New Delhi have refused to comment on the row.

    Barla's remarks have also irked people in Darjeeling Hills, where some have been demanding a separate 'Gorkhaland', or statehood for their district, since 1907.

    The Gorkhaland agitation has often turned violent over the past years, especially in 2017 when the popular tourist destination was put on standstill for 104 days. A series of accords were signed to bring peace and finally, the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration was set up.

    When it comes to politically sensitive North Bengal, both the BJP and Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool walk a tightrope. Although the BJP has 4 lawmakers from the hilly areas, Banerjee has increased the budget by over 800 percent for the development of that area, compared to her predecessors in last 10 years.

    In the recently conducted state Assembly elections, BJP established a strong foothold by winning 25 of 42 seats in the six districts of North Bengal.

    "Our party can bring a resolution and cut out a different territory easily. But the move will be a political nightmare. It will piss off a lot of people and we don't want that right now. North Bengal politicians are often moved by emotions and make such statements. But I hope the headquarters don't take it seriously," a senior BJP leader told Sputnik on the condition of anonymity.

    Banerjee's palpable anxiety over the call for a separate territory isn't entirely irrational. In 2019, the Narendra Modi government, which enjoys a comfortable majority in the Parliament, notoriously bifurcated the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories.

     

     

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