Damage control by sisters in power

Siliguri, Jan. 31: Mamata Banerjee today sought to defuse the gathering storm in Darjeeling with a carrot-and-stick policy.

The chief minister attributed the recent voices of dissonance in the hills to "emotions", conceded the right to raise contentious issues but at the right platform and explained her constitutional obligations.

But she also reaffirmed the need to keep Bengal united and vowed to push ahead with plans to create ethnic councils that the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, the dominant force in the hills, is opposed to.

Contrition, or even a whisper of it, is not usually associated with Mamata ' something that has deepened controversies such as the Park Street rape case. But Mamata appears to have realised or has been advised that the hill issue is far too explosive to be left unattended without any damage-control measures after she blundered by raising sensitive issues at what was essentially a cultural event on Tuesday.

However, fresh sources of confrontation with the Morcha were also emerging with Mamata mooting a council for Buddhists, other than the one for Lepchas. ( )

Another potential flashpoint is a renewed drive by the Trinamul Congress to widen its reach to the hills and pacify disgruntled Gorkha leaders. Trinamul leaders Mukul Roy and Gautam Deb today instructed party workers in the hills to intensify programmes.

Mamata told reporters in Siliguri: "There is a variation in political wavelengths. For example, I and Mukul (Roy) have different wavelengths. Sometimes, they (the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leaders) feel emotional. Young people do often feel in such a manner. This time too, they have felt in such a manner but it is clear that they can raise such issues, but on their political platform." She was referring to the slogan-shouting after her speech at Chowrastha in Darjeeling on Tuesday.

Mamata made it clear she favoured a united Bengal ' a statement that had provoked a show of defiance from the audience at the Mall, prompted Morcha chief Bimal Gurung to raise the pitch for statehood and threatened to undo one of her biggest achievements of bringing peace to the hills.

However, Mamata ' whose tone and tenor were remarkably restrained today compared with the perturbed response on Tuesday ' complemented her statement today by promising development in Darjeeling, the Terai and the Dooars.

Mamata's restraint suggests she has realised or been told that she blundered by making references to the sensitive statehood issue at a cultural event in the heart of Darjeeling, especially at a time the Telangana pot has begun to simmer again.

She sought to underscore how livelihood would be affected if the region turned restive again. "The business that Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars are having today is excellent. If the situation deteriorates, for whatever reasons, the people will not pardon those responsible, whether it is me or somebody else."

The chief minister acknowledged the Morcha's right to hold political programmes but laid stress on obligations as well. "If a political party takes up a programme of bloodshed, it's a different question. We cannot compromise with the democratic situation. I feel they will not do it," she said.

Mamata was probably referring to an assertion by Gurung yesterday that he was ready to face bullets.

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