Only Parliament can give us Gorkhaland: Harka Bahadur Chettri speaks about Delhi demonstration
While the impasse rages on in the hills, some Gorkha leaders like Harka Bahadur Chettri, Amar Lama and a few others are in the national capital to demonstrate their appeal for separate statehood for the Darjeeling hills. These leaders do not belong to the Gorka Janmukti Morcha (GJM), but to other parties.
Harka Bahadur Chettri, President of Jan Andolan Party (JAP) may, in other circumstances, be in opposition to the GJM, who are spearheading the ongoing bandh in the Darjeeling hills. But when it comes to the appeal for Gorkhaland – both the parties are on board with each other.
On Friday, members of the JAP along with some leaders of other hill parties and Gorkhaland supporters, demonstrated in Jantar Mantar. They led the demonstration from Jantar Mantar to the Parliament.
Harka Bahadur Chettri spoke to Catch in Delhi on Friday during the party’s demonstration from Jantar Mantar to the Parliament.
“JAP has invited any party or people in support for Gorkhaland to join in the demonstration. We will be demonstrating from Jantar Mantar to the Parliament on Monday and Tuesday as well. Since the Parliament is on and the ruling party in the Centre had promised us during the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections in their manifesto that they will address our appeal for Gorkhaland and they have not been doing anything so far, we have come to protest against them. The bandh in the Darjeeling hills has reached its 50th day today. In spite of that, the Union government has not initiated a dialogue with the hill parties so far. In a way, they have been ignoring the entire movement,” Chettri said.
The movement so far
The Gorkhaland movement witnessed a trigger on 8 June when GJM supporters protested violently against the state government's decision that Bengali will be taught, as a compulsory subject, up to Class 10 in state government schools.
Soon the protest escalated into an appeal for separate statehood and all the hill parties came on board and created the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee (GMCC) on 13 June to take the movement further.
The hill parties included in the GMCC are the –
– All India Gorkha League (AIGL)
– Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF)
– Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxist (CPRM)
– Gorkhaland Rajya Nirman Morcha
– Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh (apolitical)
For the time being, all parties have put aside their political rivalry and have supported the strike in the hills to demonstrate a firm stand in their appeal for Gorkhaland.
“When Mr Modi campaigned in Siliguri as a Prime Ministerial candidate, he told the hill people in these precise words – 'Your dream is my dream'. So far they have all been so unconcerned and indifferent – the PM, the BJP, the MP from Darjeeling. BJP party members have not even visited the hills once since the elections got over in 2016. The MP last visited in 2014 during the Lok Sabha elections. This has agitated the people even further and the sentiments are running higher than ever. We will not stop until we reach a reasonable consensus in the direction of separate statehood.”
The indefinite strike in the hills that began on 16 June has seen some brutal incidents of violence. Ten people have reportedly been killed so far in firing between police and protesters since June.
The Mamata Banerjee-led government in West Bengal after more than a month and a half has softened its stand on pro-Gorkhaland appeal by inviting the members of GMCC for a meeting in an attempt to end the bandh.
However, the GMCC members have not decided whether they will be meeting the chief minister.
“The problem is that the state government is not empowered to either shut down or grant a demand for a separate state. It is not within the jurisdiction of the state government. The GMCC has a one-point agenda and that is a separate state. The Parliament alone has the power to approve the demand. Interacting with the state government has proved to be fruitless in the past and I see no positive consequence of meeting with the CM,” Chettri said.
“If at all the state government wants to show any initiative, then it has to reach out to the central government to have a tripartite meet where all the stakeholders will be invited. The process of talks has to begin for the situation in the hills to normalise. Both the Indian government and the state government have been behaving in a very irresponsible manner,” he added.
Chettri & JAP: How it came about
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 Bimal Gurung and launched the JAP in January 2016.
In fact, Mamata had even named Chhetri as the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) candidate from Kalimpong in the 2016 Assembly elections. 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.
In his defence, Chettri said, “The JAP has no relation with the AITC right now. The alliance with AITC was nothing but an electoral move which did not work. Since then, we have not been on good terms with the state government. Even when Kalimpong was declared a district earlier this year, I was categorical in saying that Gorkhaland is still our main agenda.”
The impasse roars on
The ongoing strike, that has now reached Day 51, has resulted in many hardships. Schools and colleges have been shut since June. Some schools have recently started classes for 10 and 12 standard students in Siliguri. Healthcare facilities have deteriorated. Prices of commodities have increased since the supply of goods and services are scarce. Petroleum, LPG, mobile network, the internet and water services have also been hit severely.
“These are abnormal situations. Yes, the strike affected education, healthcare and society in general but is it not the responsibility of the government to try to normalise the situation? Actually, now it is the anger of the people that is coming out after years of taking advantage of the people of the hills. It is no a movement of political parties, but of all the people. They are willing to sacrifice anything but this time people want the demand to reach its logical conclusion,” explained Chettri.
Trouble at home
However, not all is well between the main parties in the hills. Other political parties in the GMCC have categorically asked the GJM MLAs to resign from the State Assembly. The GJM has refused to oblige.
“We believe that the state government has nothing to do with our demand when all the parties have decided to do whatever it takes for a favourable move towards the creation of Gorkhaland. It only makes sense for the MLAs to resign from the State Assembly. Especially since the Bengal parties are and have been against our appeal from the get go,” Chettri said.
Chettri also revealed to Catch that the other GMCC parties have asked the GJM to pressurise the sitting MP SS Ahluwalia to resign.
“SS Ahluwalia has not raised the issue of Gorkhaland in the Parliament since he became MP, and even now since the strike has been going on. If he can’t raise our issue in the Parliament he has no right to be our MP. We have been asking the GJM to pressurise the MP to either raise the issue in Parliament or resign. But the GJM is not doing so which is a major problem,” Chettri said.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen