Amid demands for a separate state carved out of Bengal by some Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday asserted that she is ready to shed her blood, if need be, to thwart attempts to divide the state.
Lashing out at the saffron camp "for trying to fan separatism" in the state, ahead of the general election in 2024, the Trinamool Congress supremo maintained that all communities in north Bengal had been living in harmony for decades.
"With elections approaching, the BJP is fanning the demands of separate statehood... sometimes seeking Gorkhaland, and at other times a separate state of North Bengal. I am ready to give my blood but will never allow the division of the state," Banerjee said, addressing a party meeting in Alipurduar.
The TMC later tweeted, 'BENGAL STANDS UNITED. I will give my blood, but I will not let @BJP4India divide #Bengal according to their whims & fancies! You can threaten me, put a gun on my chest and still I will continue fighting for a united Bengal -- our Hon'ble Chairperson @MamataOfficial in Alipurduar.'
In an apparent reference to a purported video by Kamtapur Liberation Organisation leader Jeevan Singha, threatening Banerjee of a 'bloodbath' if she opposed the demand for a separate Kamtapur, the feisty TMC boss said such threats do not intimidate her.
"Some people are threatening me. They are saying they will kill me if I don't allow the division of Bengal. I don't care. I am not afraid of such threats," the chief minister declared.
North Bengal, with its eight districts, is economically important for West Bengal as it is home to money-minting tea, timber, and tourism industries.
The region, which shares an international border with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, is also strategically important for the country due to its Siliguri corridor, commonly known as 'Chicken's Neck', connecting the mainland with the north eastern states.
People in North Bengal have witnessed several violent statehood movements since the early 1980s by various ethnic groups such as the Gorkha, Rajbanshi, Koch and Kamatapuri communities.
Mamata said the BJP had been trying to create divisions between the people of the hills and the plains.
"Before elections, they said they would ensure the creation of Gorkhaland. But I will never allow that," she said.
Anandamay Barman, the BJP MLA from Matigara-Naxalbari, and Shikha Chatterjee, the MLA from Dabgram-Phulbari, had spoken in favour of a Union Territory status for North Bengal.
Bishnu Prasad Sharma, ther BJP MLA from Kurseong, had demanded the separation of Darjeeling from Bengal.
John Barla, the BJP's Alipurduar MP, had stirred a hornet's nest last year after he sought a Union Territory by carving out the districts of North Bengal.
"You people have voted for the BJP. But what did it give you in return? Nothing," the chief minister said. "Instead, they removed slum-dwellers next to railway tracks. If they try to remove you, there will be protests. I will soon hand over land rights documents to refugees' families. No one can evict you."
Once considered a stronghold of the Left Front, Alipurduar was clinched by the TMC in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. But the BJP gained ground in the area and won the Lok Sabha seat in 2019.
In the 2021 assembly polls, the BJP won all the seven assembly seats under this Lok Sabha segment.