Darjeeling, April 6: The heads of seven development boards formed for different communities in the Darjeeling hills have decided to hold a meeting here on Friday to discuss the stand they will take on the coming Assembly election.
Although the chairman of West Bengal Sherpa Cultural Board said the meeting would discuss "issues related to the upcoming election", sources said the purpose of the talks was to decide whether the heads of the boards should support any party in the polls and if so, how they should send the message to the members of the communities.
The development boards' formation by the Mamata Banerjee government has given a toehold to the Trinamul Congress in the hills, where the writ of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha largely runs.
The meeting is considered significant as this is the first time that the chairmen of the boards are formally sitting together to discuss an election strategy.
|Lyangsong Tamsang, the chairman of the Mayel Lyang Lepcha Development Board, |
after receiving a cheque for Rs 10 crore from Mamata Banerjee at
Ronaldshay Park in Kalimpong
He, however, refused to get into the details of the meeting's agenda.
Sources said the chairmen of the development boards would be discussing the stand they would take in the polls. "If they decide to support any party, then, they will have to find a way to present it before the members of their respective communities. Those things will also be decided at the meeting," said an aide to the chairman of one of the boards.
The state government has so far formed boards for Lepcha, Tamang, Sherpa, Bhutia, Mangar, Rai and Limbu communities which make up 35 per cent of the hill population.
"Apart from the chairpersons, leaders of other communities like Scheduled Caste, Bhujel and probably Newars, which are also demanding development boards, are likely to attend the meeting," said Sherpa.
Asked about the likely outcome of the talks, Sherpa said: "We cannot say anything at the moment."
Observers believe the board chairmen will most probably decide on supporting the Trinamul candidates in the hills. "It is obvious that they will decide to support the Trinamul candidates because they were given positions by the state government. Most of the board chairmen were present at Mamata Banerjee's election rally in Kurseong on March 15," said an observer.
"However, the most interesting thing would be how they appeal to community members to support Trinamul. Will it be a direct appeal or will they send across a subtle message to voters," said the observer.
The observers believe the chairmen of the boards are under pressure. "Mamata Banerjee has nominated them to the posts with a belief that they wield a lot of clout among their respective communities. So, these leaders are obviously under pressure to deliver," said an observer.
Morcha president and GTA chief executive Bimal Gurung has always said the boards were created to divide the hill population. Realising the importance of the development boards in the upcoming election, he had met leaders of different communities over the past few weeks.
"Gurung has held meetings with leaders of Sherpa, Limbu, Rai and Christian communities throughout March at Gorkha Rangamanch Bhavan in Darjeeling. Gurung is confident that development board leaders cannot influence a lot of voters ," said a close aide to Gurung.
The GTA had announced in February that development boards for 19 hill communities would be established with an allocation of Rs 5 crore each.