Siliguri, Jan 31 (IANS) West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Thursday called the pro-Gorkhaland slogans raised in her presence in Darjeeling "a minor thing" and said she took it as a challenge to make the "hills smile".
"What situation did I face? What happened? It was a small matter. Why are you so much interested about a minor thing," Banerjee told reporters here in Darjeeling district when asked about the commotion at the opening of the North Bengal festival in the hill resort.
Soon after Banerjee finished her brief speech at Tuesday's function, some Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) activists stood up and waved posters that read "We want Gorkhaland", and also shouted slogans pressing for the creation of a Gorkhaland state.
After GJM president Bimal Gurung appealed to the protestors to calm down, an angry Banerjee took the microphone and said: "We must not say anything which will give a wrong message. It is neither your party's programme nor my party's programme. I am very rough and tough in this regard."
However, Banerjee softened her stand Thursday.
"They have expressed their political line. They (the GJM) feel if they do not raise the slogan, their party will cease to exist.".
"I think it is a minor thing. And raising pro-Gorkhaland slogans is nothing new and people have done it in the past as well. They are younger to me. Maybe their feelings are hurt. And younger ones can always show to elders like me that they are hurt. What is wrong in that? Why should I call that a quarrel?"
But Banerjee also made it clear that her government stood for a united West Bengal which included the Darjeeling hills.
"Our government's stand is very clear -- united Bengal. We want the development of the entire state -- be it Darjeeling or other parts of Bengal. And I will make the hills smile. It is my challenge.'
The chief minister said she did not want unrest in the hills under any circumstances. "We only want development."
Queried about Gurung's warning of "violence and bloodbath" if their demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland was not met, the chief minister exuded confidence that the GJM would not resort to bloodshed.
"As a political party, the GJM has every right to organise movements. But when political parties resort to bloodshed, that is a different thing. But I don't think they will resort to such ways. We cannot comprise on democracy," she said.
On her comments about being "rough and tough", Banerjee said she only wanted to emphasise that she wanted development.
"One bad message from here will bring the tourism industry to a halt. Look how tourism is flourishing now. Business is on the upswing. In this situation, nobody will want development to come to a halt. People of Darjeeling will be left with no means. Who will be responsible for it," she said.
After Banerjee met representatives of the Lepcha community Wednesday and announced that the state government would set up a Lepcha Development Council, Gurung alleged she was trying to "divide (the hills) and rule".
When asked on the issue, the chief minister shot back. "Neither we nor the GJM will resort to any divide and rule policy. We have all taken our oath in the name of the constitution. We are committed to the constitution. And don't Lepchas also live in Darjeeling?"
She said provisions for the council was included in the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) pact signed among the central and state governments and the GJM. She said her government will also constitute a Buddhist Council in the hills.