Home » Politics » What's brewing: Gorkha Janmukti Morcha may raise statehood demand again

What's brewing: Gorkha Janmukti Morcha may raise statehood demand again

Adil Hossain | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 5:22 IST

Deja vu

  • Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supremo Bimal Gurung threatens to resurrect statehood
  • BJP MP SS Ahluwalia was present at an GJM election rally with Gurung on Saturday

Cause and effect

  • A return to the Gorkhaland demand may put BJP in a spot in West Bengal
  • GJM may be trying to deflect attention from allegations of corruption
  • More in the story

Militant agitation for a separate Gorkhaland state may restart this winter, going by Gorkhaland Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supremo Bimal Gurung's threats. And this time the agitation may spill over from the hills of West Bengal to the national Capital, he says.

That wouldn't exactly be music to the ears of Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP). West Bengal is scheduled to elect a new Assembly next year and the party really wants to notch up a good tally there and replace the CPM as the main opposition.

If GJM's movement gains momentum, however, it will have to evaluate its support for Gorkhaland, a separate state being demanded by several people in the Darjeeling hills and the Gorkhas of the Dooars foothills in the northern part of the state. There is stiff opposition to the idea in other parts of the state.

"The Chief Minister of West Bengal is forcing us to return to the demand for statehood. She is creating division among Gorkhas in the hills, sending a clear message that without fresh agitation Gorkhaland will remain a dream," Gurung said at a rally for the Siliguri municipal election on Saturday.

Saturday's meeting was attended by the BJP's SS Ahluwalia, who represents Darjeeling in Parliament. Slogans of "Jai Gorkha" and "We demand Gorkhaland" were raised in front of him. Ahluwalia, though, skirted the issue, stressing instead on inclusion of some regions of Tarai and Dooars in the GTA, a major bone of contention between GJM and the state.

The BJP has won the Darjeeling seat in two parliamentary polls - 2009 and 2014 - with support from Morcha. There has been a tacit understanding that the party would support the statehood demand.

Of late, relations between the Morcha and Kolkata have been strained. The GJM claims that the state government regularly interferes with the functioning of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). The semi-autonomous body was created by Mamata Banerjee's government in 2011 for development of the hills.

Threats of resurrecting the statehood question is not new. The Morcha itself is not as united as it used to be - two of GJM's three MLAs left the party last month, accusing Gurung of dictatorship. There have also been allegations of corruption by Morcha leaders. These may force Gurung to return to militancy to re-energise party workers.

Friendly past

Ties between Morcha and Mamata Banerjee were good in the initial days of the GTA. Then the Trinamool Congress started to make inroads in the hills by forming independent development boards for Tamang, Lepcha and other non-Gorkha communities in the region, which soured the party's relation with the Morcha.

Mamata's identity politics in the hills also bore fruit and many activists supporters left the Morcha to join Trinamool last year. Bypassing the GTA and Morcha, forming such boards, has incensed Gurung. On Saturday, he said sarcastically : "If non-left Gorkha communities in the hills can get their own development boards, why can't people in the plains of Siliguri get one? Tribals and Muslims here should demand the same from the Chief Minister."

Gurung asked his three MLAs to resign from the Assembly last month to highlight the state's interference with the GTA and Mamata's 'divisive' politics. But Harka Bahadur Chhetri, a prominent Morcha leader from the Kalimpong region, defied the diktat, leaving the party itself. Chhetri said he would work for his constituency as an independent MLA.

Trilok Dewan, another MLA and the former chief secretary of Andhra Pradesh, left both the party and his seat on 21 September, accusing Gurung of not consulting him though he was the GJM boss's chief political advisor.

The West Bengal government provided security to both the leaders, fearing a backlash from Morcha workers. Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee also said if the leaders wished, they could join Trinamool.

Two of Morcha's three MLAs have quit the party last month

Chhetri made some damning accusations against the Morcha leadership on 24 September after returning from Kolkata: "Since the very beginning, there has been corruption worth crores related to the GTA. I wanted a probe into irregularities,"

He said raising the Gorkhaland issue to whip up public sentiment has become a habit. "If anyone should resign on the Gorkhaland issue, it's not us but the BJP MP who has reneged on his promises."

There is a sense of deja vu. In the late '80s, Gorkhaland National Liberation Front (GNLF) supremo Subhash Ghising first raised the statehood demand. Violent agitation left 1,200 people dead.

The then Left Front government conceded to this and formed the semi-autonomous Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988. Soon allegation of corruption and irregularities against the council and its members gave rise to a new leadership within the GNLF.

In 2007, former GNLF leader Bimal Gurung formed Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and started a fresh agitation to demand Gorkhaland, resulting in the formation of the GTA in 2011. Will history repeat itself next year?

First published: 5 October 2015, 5:40 IST
Adil Hossain @adilhossain

Adil Hossain is a researcher at Merton College, University of Oxford.