Non-GJM hill parties want Gorkhaland, but not under Bimal Gurung
If the Gorkhaland movement has been difficult for Mamata Banerjee to tackle in the past, things might just get a lot more difficult for her this time on. The crisis in the Darjeeling hills intensified on Tuesday when a majority of the hill parties met and reached a consensus on unifying for a movement to demand a separate state of Gorkhaland.
Though the Gorkhaland sentiment has always been there, the movement witnessed a spark on 8 June when Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters protested violently purportedly against the state government's decision that Bengali will be taught compulsorily up to Class 10 in state government schools.
The meeting was called by the Gorkha Janmukhti Morcha and was attended by five other hill parties, namely - Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), Gorkhaland Rajya Nirman Morcha, Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh (apolitical), Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists and Bharatiya Janata Party.
Though an announcement of a joint movement was made after the meeting, all parties decided to meet again on 20 June to formally chalk out a plan of action.
Neeraj Zimba, GNLF spokesperson, told Catch that though the party’s support for Gorkhaland is unconditional, their support for GJM certainly is not. “We have decided to join hands with our enemies for a common cause. This is the most conducive time since BJP is in power in the Centre.”
Interestingly, the GNLF supported the TMC during the 2016 assembly elections as well as helped them in their victory in Mirik municipality - the first time by a Bengal party in decades. Zimba called their alliance with TMC “only electoral and not ideological”.
Zimba added, “We will only formally join the alliance if the GJM agrees to our preconditions. Bimal Gurung will have to unilaterally withdraw as Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) chief. The GJM will also have to withdraw the party’s 3 MLAs from the state Assembly and so must the 4 recently election Hill municipality councilors.”
Bimal Gurung heads the semi-autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) in the Darjeeling hills that was set up by the state government in 2011. GNLF also demanded that the GJM must not settle for anything less than a separate state of Gorkhaland and all decisions, actions and programmes must be made collectively.
Govind Chettri of the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists also told Catch that their support for the GJM is also contingent of the same demands.
The GJM however may not concede to these conditions. Roshan Giri, GJM General Secretary of the Gorkha Janmukhti Morcha told Catch that the decision of whether Bimal Gurung will resign as GTA head or not will be taken soon
“The party will discuss the matter on 20 June and come out with a decision soon.” He did add that the demand for withdrawing GJM MLAs and municipality councilors will not be an advisable thing for the party to do. Giri told Catch, “Without sitting MLAs and councillors, we will not be able to reach out to the elected representatives of the state. We need as much support as we can get."
He added, "All hill parties are on the same page when it comes to Gorkhaland. We are all united on the one-point agenda of separate statehood of Gorkhaland.”
Opposition to GJM
However, not all hill parties seem on board. Harka Bahadur Chhetri’s Jan Andolan Party did not attend the all-part meeting on Tuesday. Though Chhetri has been categorical in stating that his party’s main agenda is the formation of Gorkhaland, he has repeatedly tied up with the state government to fulfill many demands.
The state government's decision to make Kalimpong a district in February 2017, was originally a demand made by Chhetri when he was the GJM legislator from Kalimpong.
Chettri left the GJM over differences with Gurung and launched the JAP in January 2016. In fact, CM Mamata Banerjee had even named Chhetri as the TMC candidate from Kalimpong in the 2016 assembly election. Fearing a backlash, he contested under his own party's symbol but lost. His defeat was quickly blamed on the JAP siding with the TMC.
Chhetri is said to have voiced his opposition to the violence and vandalism that GJM supporters allegedly indulged in during the protests. However, he also criticised the state government's handling of the crisis and its inability to respect the identity of the Gorkhas.
All India Gorkha League (AIGL) also boycotted the invitation to the meeting. AIGL chief Bharati Tamang, is the wife of slain leader Madan Tamang. Bimal Gurung and other GJM leaders are among the accused in the murder of Madan Tamang on May 21, 2010.
General Secretary of AIGL, Pratap Khati told Catch, “We will never be a part of anything that is orchestrated by Bimal Gurung. You think Bimal Gurung is the one who will deliver Gorkhaland? He is still drawing salary as GTA chief and on the other hand is demanding a Gorkhaland movement. This is nothing but an eyewash. He must not be trusted.”
The BJP too hasn’t out rightly supported the collective movement for Gorkhaland. Suman Sharma, assistant secretary of the BJP Hill District Committee attended the meeting but did not stay back for the press conference.
BJP Hill Committee president, Manoj Dewan told Catch, “The situation in Darjeeling is extremely sensitive right now. The BJP is watching the situation closely. BJP leaders in the state and the central will analyse the demand. We believe that the people in the hills deserve the same rights as the rest of the people in the country. Demanding for a separate state is a constitutional right of the people.”
It must be noted here that GJM is an ally of the NDA having supported the party to victory in 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha polls from the Darjeeling constituency. BJP has stated that it would “sympathetically examine and appropriately consider the long pending demands of the Gorkhas” in their election manifestos. However, state BJP leaders have repeatedly denied supporting the Gorkhaland movement. BJP’s support in the state and the Centre will be crucial is determining the formation of the state of Gorkhaland.
Many Gorkha leaders accuse Banerjee of adopting a “divide and rule” policy in the hills by forming development boards for various minority communities. Members of these development boards created by the state government have been silent during these agitations. Development board members of Lepchas, Tamangs, Bhutias, Kamis, Vishwakarmas and others have not joined the agitation or even commented on them.
Meanwhile a few key developments have taken place on Tuesday and Wednesday.
CM Banerjee met the Governor at Raj Bhawan and apprised him of the situation. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has sought a report from the state government on the crisis. Banerjee also carried out a minor reshuffle in the administration in the hill region.
Don Bosco Lepcha who was the GTA secretary, has been replaced by C Murugan. Dr Deepapriya has been given extra charge as executive director of GTA , apart from being the CEO of the Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority(SJDA).
Gurung on his part has dramatically warned tourists to keep away from the Darjeeling hills saying that “conditions weren't conducive” for them to stay as GJM plans to hit the streets on Thursday. He also threatened that the GJM may cut electricity and water supply. He has also claimed that 85 Trinamool functionaries have defected to GJM.
GJM general secretary Roshan Giri has sought Centre's intervention in the political turmoil in the hills. 600 additional paramilitary personnel were deployed to restore normalcy in the Darjeeling Hills which witnessed violent protests on Tuesday, the second day of an indefinite bandh called by GJM. The bandh, however, was lifted on Wednesday.
Giri is also traveling to New Delhi shortly to brief the sitting MP from Darjeeling SS Ahluwalia of the BJP, about the situation.
With inputs from Sulagna Sengupta