The chorus is not new and there is a long history of the demand for bifurcation of West Bengal. What is new is that the BJP leaders have raised it and the party is ambiguously denying it. This time the demands are to carve out two states from West Bengal: North Bengal and Jangalmahal. While BJP MP from Alipurduar John Barla has sought separate statehood for the north Bengal region, party MP from Bishnupur Saumitra Khan has pitched for the Junglemahal state. The demands were made within eight days of each other in June and the confusion started with the state BJP leadership categorically disassociating itself from the statements, even though it expressed sympathy for the identity-based movements in West Bengal.
“The BJP is not in favour of any further division of Bengal. But at the same time, one cannot ignore the Gorkhaland movement, the Kamtapur movement and some other movements organised in north Bengal for decades over lack of development in the region. The elected representatives of our party have only voiced their demands. There is nothing wrong with it,” said the state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh.
Is BJP toying with fresh gameplans in West Bengal?
Now how should one read into the equivocal remarks of the BJP leaders over the division of West Bengal? Is this a strategy to float an idea to see the response of the people and further build the momentum over it? Or is this the party’s bid to consolidate its vote bank after the loss in the recent assembly elections – loss because it was confident of winning?
Notably, the BJP has always sympathised with the groups behind the movements for separate territorial and administrative identities, but the party shied away from openly asserting their demands. So far it has gained from this political gameplan as it helped it get a toehold in these pockets of the state. But now it’s time to take a relook at it because the tactic may run out of steam in the long run. Maybe the BJP is headed in that direction only: shifting away from its ambivalent approach in the future.
Will chorus for separate statehood gain traction in West Bengal?
Then should we expect the long-standing movements for separate states to gain traction in West Bengal slowly? Has Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also smelt it coming that her government swiftly accepted the FIR filed against BJP MP John Barla for making the demand for bifurcation of West Bengal?
The demand for the Gorkhaland is one of the oldest in the state which led to violent movement in the 1980s. Initially, it was spearheaded by Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) founder Subash Ghising seeking a separate state for Gorkhas in the Darjeeling hills and parts of the Dooars and Siliguri terai regions. The agitation resulted in the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) which administered the area for 23 years. But soon after, in 2011, the statehood demand reappeared with violent agitations in 2013 and 2017.
Benefits vs backlash: BJP may need time to weigh
What is this Kamptapur agitation cited by the state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh as well? It started in 1995 with the formation of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), spearheaded by the Scheduled Caste Koch Rajbongshi community in West Bengal, who demanded to carve out a state out of seven of North Bengal’s eight districts along with some districts of Assam, Bihar and even Nepal.
Then came the movement for Greater Cooch Behar also in 1998, while the tribals in the Maoist-infested Jangalmahal region of West Bengal have also been demanding to wrest autonomy from the state. However, all these agitations gradually lost momentum due to a leadership crisis.
Now, with the BJP MPs beginning to reignite the statehood demands – even individually – it looks like that the issue may take an entirely new political turn and colour in the near future. Though, there are also reports emerging that the party leadership has warned its MPs against raising the bifurcation demand again. Maybe the party is not yet sure about the balance of the benefits the chorus may offer in north Bengal and the backlash it may cause in the rest of the state.