West Bengal

Uneasy calm in Darjeeling

Print edition : October 27, 2017

Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

GJM supremo Bimal Gurung. Photo: DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP

THE bandh called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) in the Darjeeling hills was finally lifted on September 27 after 101 days of total shutdown in support of its demand for a separate State of Gorkhaland. The GJM’s decision came at the intervention of the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who announced a meeting to look into the Darjeeling matter. “In a democracy, dialogue is the only way out to resolve any problem. Solutions can be found through restraint, mutual dialogue and within the legal ambit. I have asked the Home Secretary to convene an official-level meeting in the Home Ministry within a fortnight to discuss all related issues,” Rajnath Singh said in a statement issued on September 26.

This much-awaited intervention from the Centre gave GJM supremo Bimal Gurung what he desperately needed, a reason to present before the people for withdrawing the strike that began on June 15. Pressure had been mounting on the GJM leadership as the long-drawn bandh had affected life and the economy in the region and there was no face-saving excuse for it. With both the State government and the Centre refusing to concede the demand for a separate State, the GJM was hard put to keep the agitation alive. Moreover, cracks had begun to show within the GJM, which had emerged as the single most powerful political force in the hills since overthrowing the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) in 2008.

With Gurung and several top leaders of the GJM having gone into hiding, and arrest warrants pending against them (including charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act), the agitation was fast slipping out of the grasp of the GJM. The State government, in an attempt to split the party, appointed Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa, once trusted aides of Gurung, as Chairman and Vice-chairman of the reconstituted board of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). On June 23, just two weeks after the agitation for Gorkhaland had begun, all 43 elected members of the GTA, including Chief Executive Gurung, had submitted their resignations from the autonomous body which was constituted in 2011 for administering the hills. Both Tamang and Thapa had already been expelled from the party by Gurung for wanting to call off the bandh.

Not only has this been the longest continuous strike in the history of the Gorkhaland movement (the earlier record was 40 days under Subhas Ghising of the GNLF in the mid 1980s), it has also been one of the most intense and violent mass-based agitations in recent times. Though shops have opened and normalcy has returned to the “Queen of the Hill Stations”, with even a few tourists beginning to trickle in, one cannot help but feel that this peace may be just a temporary lull before another storm breaks out.

The veteran hill leader and former MLA from Kalimpong, Harka Bahadur Chhetri of the Jan Andolan Party, said: “Things appear normal on the surface, but there are rumblings underneath. There is huge disillusionment and anger among the people, but it is not yet being articulated or channelled. The people feel humiliated because of the manner in which their demand and sacrifice have been ignored, and they are disappointed with the leaders who failed to give direction to the energy that the movement had generated this time.”

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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