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Former GJM Leader Harka Bahadur Chhetri to launch A Political Party

Kalimpong :  Harka Bahadur Chhetri today said he planned to float a political party, months after he left the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. Chhetri, who heads the Kalimpong District Demand Committee, did not give a clear answer when asked what his prospective party's stand would be on the Gorkhaland issue. Chhetri today said there was a need to bring about political change in the hills and the formation of a district was the first step in that direction. "The second and third steps will follow. We are thinking about it (forming a party) in the district demand committee because we are being pressured by our friends and supporters to launch a party," he said. Asked if the decision to form the party was more or less finalised, Chhetri said: "More finalised, not less." He added: "There can't be politics without a political party. A party is required to provide good administration. We will discuss this among ourselves and take a decision soon. It will not take long." Asked what the new party's stand on the demand for Gorkhaland would be, the Kalimpong MLA said: "We are at primary school. Gorkhaland is a university. We will first have to think of getting to secondary school and then on to college. Maybe, we will not be able to reach university in our generation, the next generation possibly can," he said. Last week, officials in Nabanna, the state secretariat, had said finishing touches were being given to the Kalimpong district demand. 

Some sources said Mamata Banerjee wanted to back Chhetri as a local counter-point to the Bimal Gurung-led Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. Assembly elections are barely five months away, and Chhetri's willingness to float a party now is interesting in this context too. In the general elections in 2014, Trinamul had fielded Bhaichung Bhutia from the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat. The Morcha did not support him, saying he is not a local face. But it supported the BJP's S.S. Ahluwalia, who is also not a local face but belongs to a party that had shown some willingness initially to hear out the Morcha on Gorkhaland. Trinamul has a unit in the hills, but has no leader with a mass following. Chhetri is not a leader of the masses either, but as the MLA of Kalimpong, he enjoys the goodwill of residents in the subdivision. The MLA said the new party would not be restricted by geography or ethnicity. "We are looking at a huge canvas. We will empower the people. We will focus on real issues concerning the people and work to provide them with basic necessities that continue to elude them," he said. 

Chhetri said the land rights of tea garden and cinchona workers would be the priority of the new party. "These workers have been living in the plantations for 200 years, but their condition is pitiable. It will be gross injustice not to give them land rights. I have already taken up the matter with the government," he said. Tea garden land is leased out by the state government to companies and the lease has to be renewed every 30 years. The state is the owner of the tea gardens' land. The workers and their families who have been residing in tea plantations for generations since the 1850s do not have land rights. The cinchona plantations are under the directorate of cinchona and medicinal plantation, which is a state undertaking. Like in tea gardens, the workers of cinchona plantations have no land rights. 

The GNLF held a meeting in Darjeeling on Sunday to commemorate the signing of a memorandum of settlement by the Centre, state and former party president Subash Ghisingh on December 6, 2005, to bring the hills under the Sixth Schedule. At the meeting, Bhanu Lama, the organising secretary of the GNLF, said the party would intensify its agitation to bring the hills under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

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