Former GJM supremo Bimal Gurung extends support to Mamata Banerjee after being on the run for three years

Published : October 22, 2020 08:47 IST

Bimal Gurung addressing a press conference on October 21 in Kolkata. Photo: Ashok Bhaumik/PTI

After being on the run from the law for three years, former chief of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) Bimal Gurung suddenly appeared in Kolkata on October 21 and announced unconditional support to Mamata Banerjee in the 2021 Assembly elections. Once the undisputed leader in the Darjeeling hills of West Bengal, Gurung has been absconding since September 2017 after the Trinamool Congress government of West Bengal slapped him with a number of criminal charges, including those under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), following a prolonged violent agitation in the hills for a separate State of Gorkhaland in which 10 people were killed allegedly in police firing.

His sudden reappearance in Kolkata in a car with a Jharkhand license plate and announcing his severing of ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) marks a new twist in the volatile separatist politics of the Darjeeling hills. At a press conference in Kolkata, Gurung said: “We want to break ties with the BJP and the NDA and in the coming 2021 Assembly elections, we want to forge an alliance with Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress. This way, we would like to give a fitting reply to the BJP. We will try our hardest in every constituency in the hills to ensure that Mamata Banerjee once again becomes the Chief Minister of West Bengal.”

He said that while Mamata Banerjee always kept her promises, the BJP never kept its word. He also maintained that his main objective still is to carve out a separate State of Gorkhaland from the Darjeeling hills and parts of the Terai and the Doars in the foothills of north Bengal. When pointed out that he has been vocal over the past three years (from his unknown hideout) against the Mamata Banerjee government, Gurung replied: “There are no permanent enemies or friends in politics”. About the criminal cases filed by the State government against him, he said, “I am not a criminal nor an anti-national. I am a politician and I want this to be settled politically.”

Responding to Gurung’s overture, the Trinamool Congress posted this tweet: “We welcome Bimal Gurung’s commitment to peace & decision to withdraw support from NDA while reposing faith in @MamataOfficial’s leadership. BJP’s attempts to use Gorkhaland issue for petty politics & their untrustworthy nature now lay fully exposed before people of Bengal. We’re confident that all the key stakeholders in hills, including political parties & GTA along with civil society will work together & join hands with us for the peace & prosperity of our motherland.”

Dilip Ghosh, West Bengal BJP president and Lok Sabha MP, said: “At one point Bimal Gurung was with the Trinamool. Why did he leave it for the BJP? Who forced him and a few hundred youths to run away from the hills? Not the BJP. Many people had to flee the hills from the oppression of the Trinamool and the police.”

Interestingly, when Gurung was on the run, his party, the GJM, broke up, with the faction led by Binay Tamang allying itself with the State government and with the government’s support established itself at the helm of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA)—an autonomous elected body established in 2011. However, in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP won conviningly in the hills, winning by a margin of over four lakh votes with support from the GJM faction loyal to Gurung and the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF). With Gurung’s support now being welcomed by the ruling party, it remains to be seen how the two warring factions of the GJM will be reconciled.

Neeraj Zimba, GNLF MLA from Darjeeling, told Frontline: “This day will be counted as one of the darkest days in the political history of the Gorkhas. The man who was so loved and trusted by the people of the hills has betrayed his own people.” According to Zimba, Gurung does not have much political influence in the hills any more. “People had put their trust in Bimal Gurung and had marched in protest against the State government in 2017 and because of his mishandling, the situation turned disastrous for them (more than 10 people reportedly lost their lives in alleged police firing). The people of the hills may forgive the State government, but they will never forgive Bimal Gurung.”

Leaders of the Trinamool Congress in the hills, too, were unsure of the latest development. Binny Sharma, senior Trinamool leader, told Frontline: “We are happy that he has extended his support to the party and we, being party soldiers, will abide by whatever decision the leadership takes in the matter. Anything for the betterment of the hills is welcome. But the peace and harmony that has been prevalent in the hills for the last three years should not be disturbed. The violence and burning of houses of Opposition party members has all stopped and the people of the region want it to remain this way.”

After the establishment of the GTA in 2011, there was relative peace in the trouble-torn hills of Darjeeling, however, under Gurung’s leadership, a fresh wave of violence broke out, with a record 104-day bandh. But with Gurung’s departure, peace gradually prevailed, even though the State government appeared to have lost its support among the people of the region. With the Assembly elections round the corner and Mamata Banerjee under pressure from the BJP, the ruling party may well be hoping that Gurung’s support may result in a reversal of political fortune in the Darjeeling hills of West Bengal.