Kurseong: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Friday that she was proud of the country’s armed forces but will never seek votes in the name of the army like Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Addressing a rally in Kurseong in north Bengal’s Darjeeling hills, which witnessed massive statehood agitation in 2017, Banerjee said her government will take up “certain measures” to protect the identity of the Gorkha community after the Lok Sabha elections.
“I am proud of the Gorkha regiment in the Indian Army. But I do not seek votes in the name of our soldiers during elections like Narendra Modi. Army is in the highest position. They are like the stars in the sky. Do not bring them down like this and insult them,” Banerjee said.
During an election rally in Maharashtra on Tuesday, Modi had asked the first-time voters to dedicate their votes to the Balakot air-strike soldiers and the jawans who were killed in Pulwama.
“I have seen that many former army chiefs have condemned the politicisation of the army like this. I support their point of view. Modi, Amit Shah or Ahluwalia will come and go, but the army who protect us and our nation will remain as an integral part of our lives,” she said.
S.S. Ahluwalia is the outgoing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from the Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency.
In a bid to woo the Gorkha voters, whose votes may emerge as the deciding factor in the Darjeeling parliamentary constituency, Banerjee said the local demands to protect the Gorkha pride and identity would be respected.
“I know that you have certain demands about protecting your community’s identity. It is a legitimate demand. We are Bengalis. We also have our own identity. So the Gorkhas should have recognition of their identity. There is nothing bad in it,” the Trinamool Congress supremo said.
“When the GTA (Gorkha Territorial Administration) agreement took place, my government was new. I did not get a chance to see the agreement before that. But later we discussed about it. After the elections, we will find a solution to protect the Gorkha identity and give the Gorkhas their deserved respect,” she noted.
She also said that her government will work on building a memorial in the hills to highlight the achievements of the Gorkha regiment.
Criticising the BJP for fielding Manipur’s Raju Singh Bista as its Lok Sabha candidate from Darjeeing, Banerjee questioned why the party did not choose a local instead and pointed out that her party has fielded a local leader.
“Did you not get a single eligible candidate from among the boys and girls in Darjeeling that you have brought in someone from Manipur? I haven’t given a Bengali candidate. I have chosen a son of the soil,” she said, urging the people to vote for Amar Singh Rai.
Banerjee also attacked Ahluwalia and fugitive Gorkha Janamuki Morcha (GJM) chief Bimal Gurung, claiming that they have cheated everyone in the Darjeeling hills by running away in the time of crisis.
Urging the people of the hills to maintain peace, Banerjee said her government would sincerely work to solve the existing issues such as minimum wages in the tea gardens and disputes over land rights in the region.