The BJP of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah is a party of surprises. So, when BJP MPs John Barla and Nisith Pramanik from North Bengal were given a place in the recent cabinet overhaul by Prime Minister Modi, many eyebrows were instantly raised. Not very long ago, both these MPs were in the news for supporting the demands of statehood for North Bengal. While Alipurduar MP John Barla had openly called for North Bengal to be given statehood or be declared a Union Territory, Nisith Pramanik had supported his colleague’s demand.
Thereafter, when John Barla was made MoS Minority Affairs and Nisith Pramanik was given the job of MoS Home Affairs by PM Modi, a chill ran down the ruling Trinamool Congress’ spine. “In order to escape from such atrocities, I raised the demand for North Bengal to be declared a Union Territory. I will take this matter up with Delhi (leadership),” Barla had said.
It is no secret that the sentiment for a separate state of North Bengal is palpable among the people of the region – who feel the Kolkata-based TMC government is doing nothing for their welfare and their development. It is for this very reason that the BJP continuously performs well in North Bengal, and in fact, can claim that the region is its stronghold. In the recent assembly polls, the party bagged 30 of the 54 seats in the eight North Bengal districts. In 2019, it has won seven of the eight parliamentary seats belonging to North Bengal.
According to a Dainik Bhaskar report, the BJP wants to retain power in North Bengal and not compromise on the support it has been able to build in the region. Therefore, the prospect of North Bengal being given statehood is highly likely – which will make India a federation of 29 states. The report added that the BJP is, in fact, supportive of smaller states, and provided the example of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the same effect.
Between 1999 and 2004, when the NDA government was in power at the Centre under the leadership of then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP made it a point to form three new states, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand. After the formation of these new states, between 2000 and 2018 in Chhattisgarh, there was a BJP government for more than 15 years. Between 2000 and 2019 in Jharkhand, the BJP remained in power for close to 12 years. In Uttarakhand, meanwhile, between 2000 and 2021 – the BJP was in government for about 10 years and still is. This proves that the formation of new states has been a profitable deal for the BJP historically.
BJP’s National General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya was probed by Dainik Bhaskar on the issue of statehood for North Bengal, and he said that the BJP was very much in favour of small states. Being a border state, however, he added West Bengal’s bifurcation would require hectic parleys between the Home and Defense Ministries. However, he did not rule out the possibility of carving a new state – North Bengal.
Given the historical indifference of the state government which North Bengal has experienced, the Modi government indeed seems to be in favour of granting the region statehood. The appointment of two MPs supportive of the same to the Union Cabinet speaks to the same effect.