KOLKATA: Squarely blaming the Mamata Banerjee government for “lack of development” in north Bengal, BJP state president Dilip Ghosh on Saturday claimed that local MP John Barla, who drew flak for seeking a separate union territory for the region, was only voicing the grievances of people.

Maintaining that the BJP does not support division of Bengal, Ghosh, however, said that Barla, as people’s representative in Alipurduar, was simply putting forth their demand for the state’s bifurcation.

“He cannot be labelled as a separatist for voicing the concerns of people,” the state BJP chief said during his visit to Jalpaiguri.

Barla, who was recently appointed as a union minister by the Narendra Modi government, had in June courted controversy as he sought a separate union territory comprising all north Bengal districts.

Ghosh had then asserted that the views of Barla were his own and the BJP was not in favour of it.

Defending the Alipurduar MP during the day, he said, “If the demand for a separate north Bengal or Junglemahal gathers steam, it is Mamata Banerjee who must bear the responsibility.”

Alleging that the TMC government did not do anything to bring about development in north Bengal or Junglemahal, he said, “Why do people from these areas have to move outside for proper education, job? Why is there no decent medical facility or educational institution?”

Days after Barla had raised the demand for a separate territory for north Bengal, another BJP MP, Saumitra Khan, had sought statehood for Junglemahal — comprising hilly forested areas of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts.

Ghosh stated that “people of the area have voted for Barla. He has to listen what they say, be mindful of their demand”.

The senior BJP leader further said that the Mamata Banerjee government had kept the “longstanding demand for ‘Gorkhaland’ in Darjeeling alive and the GTA agreement that favoured the separatists had to be signed accordingly”.

“When the GTA was signed why didn’t you (critics of north Bengal UT demand) protest? Why no one batted an eyelid then? Only when the BJP is around, you make us, the party’s leaders, a punching bag. You call our MP a separatist,” he added.

A tripartite agreement was signed in 2011 by the Centre, the West Bengal government and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, paving the way for setting up of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), an elected body for the Darjeeling hills.

Strongly reacting to Ghosh’s statements, TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh sought to know why the demand for a separate union territory was not raised during the assembly polls, “if that is what the people of north Bengal apparently wants”.

“Why Dilipbabu or the other leaders of the party, including heavyweights from Delhi, did not speak on the same lines during their campaign for state assembly polls? Why this hypocrisy? “Had the BJP aired such views back then, voters of West Bengal would have been aware about its stance,” the TMC spokesman added.