Mainstream political parties in Sikkim have thrown their weight behind the separate Gorkhaland state issue for which the state has witnessed a series of agitations with its economy paralysed.
The state's main political force -- the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front -- has openly supported the creation of a separate Gorkhaland state to fulfil what it says the aspiration of the Gorkha people.
"The demand for creation of a Gorkhaland state is fully justified for the fulfilment of democratic aspirations of the Gorkha people living in the Darjeeling hills and adjoining areas in West Bengal," party leader and former chief minister B B Gurung told PTI in Gangtok.
"The lack of economic development in the Darjeeling hills and discrimination of the Gorkha people at the hands of the successive West Bengal governments since Independence are the main reasons behind the demand for the separate state," he said.
Gurung, who is the political advisor to Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, said the demand for a separate state for the people of Darjeeling and adjoining areas was also within the ambit of the Constitution since there had been a precedent of creation of smaller states like Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand in the recent past.
Former political heavyweight and chief minister Nar Bahadur Bhandari also supports Gorkhaland, saying the Darjeeling hills were never a part of West Bengal historically and the present agitation was a culmination of the discriminatory attitude of the state government over the years, he said.
Bhandari, president of the Congress unit of the state and who held chief ministership for 14 uninterrupted years since 1979 to 1993, accused the West Bengal government of discriminating against the people of Darjeeling hills and neglecting its economic development to create an emotional divide between the people of the hills and plains.
"After all, the people of Darjeeling hills are as indigenous and Indian as any of us and have served the country with the same commitment as others," he said, dismissing the perception that the Gorkhas were people of Nepali origin.
Gurung said his SDF might even consider adopting a resolution favouring the statehood if a formal request came from the GJM leadership.
However, he has appealed to the GJM leadership to see that the people of the Himalayan state did not suffer because of their agitation.
Bhandari argued successive Bengal governments had exploited the natural resources of the hills like tea, timber and tourism to undertake development work more in the plains than the hills.
He said Gorkha people of the Darjeeling hills have maintained their distinct culture, traditions, language and lifestyle to merit creation of a separate state.
The Congress leader slammed Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Information and Broadcasting Minister Priyaranjan Das Munshi for opposing the demand for the new state.
"They are opposing the statehood demand for parochial and regional considerations because they are Bengalis first," Bhandari said.
He also took a dig at the Congress leadership at the Centre for its silence on Gorkhaland and said the party should maintain a consistent stand on the need for creation of smaller states as it had done in the case of Telangana and Vidarbha.
He said a separate state would benefit not only the Gorkha people, but also others like the Marwaris, Biharis and Bengalis who have been living in Darjeeling hills for decades.
The Sikkim Gorkha Prajatantrik Party also has expressed support for Gorkhaland with its president and former minister G M Rai justifying on the ground that it will fulfil aspiration of the hill people.
However, some political parties like Bharatiya Janata Party, Communist Party of India-Marxist and Sikkim Himali Rajya Parishad have refused to express their stand on the statehood issue.
"The state BJP has nothing to say on the issue. We will be able to speak on the issue only after our central leadership takes a stand," the state BJP president, H R Pradhan, said.
CPI-M state committee member, Anjan Upadhyaya, said the state unit of the party would stick to the stand of the party's national leadership as also that of the West Bengal unit.
The SHRPP, an emerging political force in the Himalayan state, refused to comment on the issue, but at the same time expressed apprehension that some foreign forces might be behind the fomenting of the agitation.
"The Centre should find out the foreign forces, which were behind the agitation on the statehood issue and were encouraging the agitators in all manners," party president A D Subba said.
He said the Centre should see that the concerns of Sikkim had been addressed and the state remained insulated from the fallout of agitations in the Darjeeling hills, Subba said.