Making The Case For North Bengal To Be Made A Union Territory
Several factors, including demand from the locals, demographic change, and national security, present a case for West Bengal to be bifurcated and the northern region to be declared a UT.
The UT demand arises due to underdevelopment in the area and pressing national concerns that are only going to intensify in the future.
North Bengal remains backward in terms of human development indices, physical and social infrastructure, healthcare and education facilities, and even representation in the state cabinet.
Thirty-four years of communist rule followed by 11 years of Trinamool in power have wrecked the region.
The 3Ts of the area — tea, tourism, and timber — were used for development elsewhere while the region's potential for horticulture, floriculture, aquaculture, medicinal plants, pharmaceuticals, and small hydel power generation plants was ignored.
A closer look at the issues of demographics and national security in the state.
The policy of Muslim appeasement pursued by successive regimes in Bengal has led to a huge, illegal influx of Bangladeshi Muslims into the region.
These illegal migrants have been given Indian citizenship documents and that has altered the demographic profile of North Bengal.
This will eventually reduce the Gorkhas, Koch-Rajbongshis, and Bengali Hindus to a minority.
Exercises to identify illegal migrants, like the NRC/CAA, can only happen if the region is taken out of Trinamool's grip.
The Siliguri Corridor, an important part of this region, forms a narrow and tenuous land link between North East India and the rest of the country.
This corridor is flanked by Bangladesh to its south and Bhutan to the north.
The India-Tibet-Bhutan trijunction extends like a dangerous dagger into the body of this corridor and, thus, makes it vulnerable.
North Bengal is home to many strategic Army and Indian Air Force bases that are tasked with securing the Indo-Tibet border in the eastern sector.
A large group of hostile populations with extra-territorial loyalties living in the peripheries of these bases would compromise the security, sanctity, and also military operations if a conflict breaks out.
If it becomes a UT, in addition to the concerns being addressed, the northern region will get funds directly from the Centre and, thus, will secure a much-needed development boost.
Additionally, the indigenous Gorkhas and Koch-Rajbongshi will get their due representation in the power structures.
The hesitation: As only the BJP-led Union government has the power to announce a UT status for areas, the lack of progress on this front is being attributed to political interests in Bengal.
The BJP is fearful of alienating the Bengalis of southern Bengal where the BJP did not fare well in the state assembly polls last year.
Mamata Banerjee has leveraged the matter as an emotive issue to electorally harm the BJP. Even after the polls, she has been raking up the issue, thus forcing the saffron party to go on the defensive and try to disassociate itself from the demand.
The party’s public representatives from southern Bengal have been at pains to reiterate that the BJP has never officially supported the demand for this bifurcation.
The BJP's concerns valid? Not really. The significance of the issue rises and wanes with different communities and geographies.
The BJP is supported by a diverse section of people, including the Gorkhas and Koch-Rajbongshis — the indigenous groups of North Bengal — to Dalits, Matuas, and tribals of South Bengal's Jangalmahal area.
The BJP still remains popular in these areas despite Trinamool's impressive performance here in the assembly polls.
Moreover, it's mainly the upper caste and ‘petty bourgeois’ Bengalis who find the bifurcation of Bengal important and they are unlikely to support the BJP in the short term.
If the BJP develops strong state leadership and provides an alternative to Banerjee's governance style, its support would rise to the point where the latter's emotive appeals wouldn't matter.
Bottom line: Declaration of North Bengal as a UT will be beneficial for the people in the area as well as for the rest of the country.
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