On the night of June 5, a video clip was released warning West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee not to interfere in North Bengal and reiterating the demand for a “separate state of Koch-Kamtapur”. The clip carrying the message from Kamtapur Liberation Organization (KLO) leader Tamir Das aka Jibon Singha came as the CM was preparing for a three-day administrative tour of the region.
The KLO is a banned militant organization operating in Assam and West Bengal whose main claim is a separate Kamtapur state, comprising six districts in North Bengal (Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin and Malda), four states in lower Assam (Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Dhubri and Goalpara), Kishanganj in Bihar and Jhapa in Nepal.
In his statement, Singha warned of a ‘bloodbath’ and came at a time when a section of BJP leaders have called for North Bengal to be turned into a separate state or granted statehood. territory of the Union to ensure the development of the region’s infrastructures. .
“Cooch Behar is a Class C state as per India’s Accession Treaty,” Singha said. “A number of local MPs and MPs like John Barla, Nisith Pramanik and Jayanta Roy have supported our request. The people of Koch-Kamatapur will form the great state of Cooch Behar or Kamatapur and create their own political destiny.
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The demand for Kamtapur has existed for over three decades and has its roots in the rolling that began in Assam and then Darjeeling Hills in the early and mid 1980s. The success of a violent agitation in the Darjeeling Hills led by Subhash Ghisingh of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) – which led to the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988 – gave a boost to other similar demands in the region. The Kamtapur People’s Party (KPP) came into being in 1992. It was an offshoot of the Kamtapur Gana Parishad and was formed with the main purpose of forming a separate state of Kamtapur for the Koch-Rajbangshis.
Who are the Koch-Rajbangshis?
Koch-Rajbangshis are estimated to number over 33 lakh in West Bengal, accounting for over 30% of the electorate in North Bengal. The Rajbangshis – the word means those of royal lineage – are a community with their roots in the Kamta Kingdom, which included parts of present-day Assam, West Bengal and adjacent territories. The Kamata Kingdom was born in the 13th century after the fall of the Pala dynasty.
After independence in 1949, the princely state of Cooch Behar became part of West Bengal as a Category C state (governed by Chief Commissioners appointed by the President) through three treaties. The following year, on January 1, 1950, the former kingdom was divided and became part of West Bengal and Assam.
As the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) gained ground in Assam since its formation in 1979, some members of the Kamtapur Student Union decided to wage an armed struggle to achieve the goal of the state. from Kamtapur. According to state intelligence officials, those militants who later created the KLO on December 28, 1995 approached the ULFA, which decided to help them gain a foothold outside Assam and use the areas from North Bengal controlled by the KLO as a transit. routes for its cadres to and from camps in Bhutan. The ULFA, which clashed with Indian security forces in Assam, also intended to use the areas in which the KLO was active as a refuge for its wounded or sick members. In return, Home Ministry officials said, the KLO received training and support from the ULFA and the Bodoland National Democratic Front in camps in the jungles of southern Bhutan and on the border between Assam and Bengal.
Although it had carried out several attacks, including a number in joint operations with the ULFA, since its formation, the KLO failed to make much headway in its demand for Kamtapur. Declaring the KLO to be prohibited attire under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, the Union Home Office said in a notification in 2014 that the group had “engaged in terrorism under the form of killing innocent civilians and security forces and engaging in other violent activities, including looting, kidnapping, detonating landmines and bombs”.
The KLO also failed to retain its prominence as the major political parties consolidated within the community. The Koch-Rajbangshis are the largest Scheduled Caste (SC) community in West Bengal and a crucial vote bank for any party that wants to win North Bengal.
In 2012, a year after coming to power, Mamata Banerjee established Cooch Behar Panchanan Barma University in 2012 to honor the legacy of the 19th century Rajbangshi leader and reformer. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) led state government has also established two Rajbangshi language academies and a board of trustees to focus on community development. In November 2020, Banerjee announced the formation of the Cooch Behar-based Narayani Police Battalion which is named after the army of the former princely state of Cooch Behar.
In February 2021, in the run up to national elections, the TMC-led government handed over 13 acres of land for the construction of a second campus of Panchanan Barma, Khalisamari University. Addressing the community, Union Home Minister Amit Shah also appealed to Ananta Rai, believed to be the descendant of the Cooch Behar royal family. The minister also announced the formation of a new battalion in the central paramilitary forces named after the Narayani Sena and a Rs 500 crore cultural center for Rajbangshis along with a Rs 200 crore statue of Barma. On February 14, the Union’s Ministries of Tourism and Culture held a three-day cultural festival at Cooch Behar Palace.
Following Singha’s video, the BJP sparked a storm after the party’s Jalpaiguri MP Jayanta Roy said, “If he (Singha) called for a separate state, we have no problem with that. The people of North Bengal have been deprived of this for years and their claim for a separate state is legitimate.
The TMC immediately accused the opposition party of stoking the demand for a banned group and alleged that the KLO leader’s video was a “pre-planned plot” by the saffron party. “This is a pre-planned plot by the BJP. But the people of Bengal have already rejected them. In Bengal, it will not succeed,” said TMC State Vice Chairman Jay Prakash Majumdar .
Political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty said, “It looks like the KLO is trying to penetrate further which could again cause unrest in North Bengal. Undoubtedly, if the KLO movement gains momentum, then simultaneously other separatist organizations will also try to consolidate further.