Darjeeling bandh is a success. Are Mamata and GJM set for a showdown?
Despite the best efforts of the ruling Trinamool Congress to foil it, the bandh called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in the Darjeeling Hills on Wednesday passed successfully. Most shops and businesses were shuttered and transport was off the roads.
On Tuesday, the Calcutta High Court had declared the 12-hour bandh "illegal" and ordered the Mamata Banerjee regime to ensure normalcy prevailed in the hills.
The GJM had called the bandh to protest Mamata's claim that the GTA had been allocated Rs 4,000 crore over the past four and a half years. The party demanded that the chief minister provide documentary evidence to back up her claim.
After the bandh passed off peacefully, GJM chief Bimal Gurung threatened to approach the central government "as the state government is interfering in the work of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration. "I will write a letter to the chief minister and provide her details of the work carried by the GTA and the funds utilised. I will also make the demand for Gorkhaland," Gurung said. "If the chief minister doesn't heed our demands then I will approach the Centre."
The Mamata government had gone all out to foil the bandh, even sending three ministers - Goutam Deb, Rabindranath Ghosh and James Kujur - to Darjeeling, apparently to convince the people to disregard the GJM's call. It was to no avail as the people largely heeded the call.
In Kalimpong, a clash broke out between supporters of the shutdown and the police when some "Trinamool supporters" tried to open the shops. The police arrested nearly 200 supporters of the bandh, including the Kalimpong MLA Sarita Rai of the GJM, but they were later released.
Senior district officials said normalcy prevailed in the hills despite the bandh, pointing out that buses with tourists arrived in Darjeeling escorted by security personnel.
Gautam Deb, the tourism minister who was camping in Kalimpong, alleged that some "GJM supporters" damaged three cars of Trinamool activists, and that the police are taking action.
Although today's bandh passed off relatively peacefully, political analysts apprehend violence in the run up to the elections to the GTA as well as the panchayats in 2017. The analysts pointed out that since Mamata "wants to wrest control of all municipalities and panchayats of Kalimpong, Kurseong and Darjeeling from the GJM, fresh tension is likely to crop up". In the last assembly election earlier this year, the GJM had retained all three seats in the hills -- Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Kurseong.
Although the GJM and the Trinamool have long been political adversaries, the relations have particularly sourced over the past year or so. Gurung has accused Mamata of interfering in the working of the semi-autonomous GTA. Mamata has also angered the GJM by forming, in the run up to the assembly election, a string of "development boards" for minority communities residing in the hills, including the Lepcha, Limpus, Tamangs, Bhutias, Rais, Dukpas, Sherpas. The GJM sees these boards, as well as the recent announcement of districthood for Kalimpong sub division, as a ploy by Mamata to undermine the movement for Gorkhaland by pitting the smaller communities in the hills against the dominant Gorkhas.