West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee will arrive here on Tuesday night: topping her schedule is a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — either on February 22 or 23 — to push for a speedy Presidential assent for the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Act (GTA), which was passed by the Assembly last year, sources said here. The process of consultations with the Centre, which began after the passage of the Bill, is learnt to be in the final stages.
But with the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), which had spearheaded the movement for a separate State for the Gorkhas of Darjeeling, threatening to start an indefinite agitation on the issue from March 27 unless the GTA is implemented, Ms. Banerjee needs the Centre to act very quickly. For the West Bengal government, this could become a major embarrassment as one of its first acts after getting elected last year was to broker a tripartite agreement following which the GJM had withdrawn its agitation: now the GJM leaders are threatening to burn a copy of the agreement.
On Saturday, when she met GJM leaders in north Bengal, Ms. Banerjee is believed to have blamed the Centre for procrastinating on the GTA, which was signed on July 18, 2011 — she also told them she would try hard to convince the Centre to honour the tripartite agreement, so that the GJM leadership can run its own administration in the Hills. But sources in Kolkata said that there had been no delay by the Centre and this was how long the process of consultations normally took.
Meanwhile, sources here added that two other issues that have been creating friction with the Congress-led government at the Centre may also figure in Ms. Banerjee's discussions with the Prime Minister: the State government's opposition to the setting up of the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) as well as India's relations with Bangladesh.
Last week, Ms. Banerjee had joined hands with Chief Ministers of opposition-ruled States to oppose the setting up of the NCTC: sources in Kolkata say it is unlikely that she will relent as it is seen as giving, what one official described as, “gestapo powers” to the Centre. The Centre, on its part, is saying that there is nothing new in the functioning of the NCTC, as it operates under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 1967, under which organisations such as the Intelligence Bureau work across the country — with the help of the State governments.
On Saturday, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai had travelled to Kolkata to meet Ms. Banerjee on issues related to Bangladesh: sources in the West Bengal capital said that the government's purpose would have been better served had they sent a political person to talk to the Chief Minister: last time, the Centre had sent National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon to convince her about the Teesta Waters Agreement before the Prime Minister's visit to Dhaka. He had failed to do that and the agreement was not signed.