West Bengal

A breather in the hills

Print edition : July 10, 2015

Women security personnel guard a street in Darjeeling following the arrest warrant issued against the GJM top leadership, including Bimal Gurung, on June 7. Photo: PTI

THE Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), the most powerful political force in the Darjeeling Hills, received a much-needed breather on June 16 when the Calcutta High Court extended the stay on the arrest warrant against all the top GJM leaders issued earlier by a city court in Kolkata.

Problems have mounted for the GJM in the past two months. On May 29, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) named the entire top leadership of the party, including GJM supremo Bimal Gurung, in its final charge sheet in the case of the killing of Madan Tamang, president of the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL).

On the basis of the charge sheet, just seven days later, on June 6, the City Sessions Court of Kolkata issued an arrest warrant against all 23 party leaders and workers accused in the crime. The acting chief judge, Gopal Chandra Karmakar, directed the CBI to execute the arrest order by June 26.

Madan Tamang, who was one of the most respected politicians in the Darjeeling Hills and a vocal critic of the GJM, was hacked to death by GJM activists in broad daylight on May 21, 2010. Interestingly, the CID (Crime Investigation Department) of the West Bengal Police did not name any top GJM leader in its charge sheet filed later that year. The CBI took over the case in 2011.

Soon after the arrest warrant was issued, the GJM leadership approached the Calcutta High Court for anticipatory bail. On June 16, a Division Bench of the High Court, comprising Judges Ashim Kumar Roy and Malay Marut Banerjee, ruled that the arrest of the GJM leaders could not be carried out until the bail petition was disposed of. The court also directed the CBI to file an affidavit before the court by July 1.

While welcoming the arrest warrant against the GJM leadership, ABGL leader Pratap Khati felt that the CBI was not adequately prepared and hence the reprieve for the GJM. “The CBI’s actions have been questionable. Even after the city court directed it to arrest the GJM leaders, the CBI made no effort to arrest them. But we have full faith in the judicial system and are confident that the guilty will be punished,” Khati told Frontline.

The GJM, which assumed power in the hills after dethroning the late Subash Ghising’s Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) in 2008, though on the back foot after the recent developments, remains the most powerful force in the region. In 2012, it swept the elections to the Gorkha Territorial Administration winning all 45 seats practically unopposed, and in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections it steered the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate, S.S. Ahluwalia, to victory.

However, the party’s uncharacteristically subdued reaction to its recent spate of troubles betrays a sense of trepidation among its top leaders. “Earlier, we would have expected the GJM to react with its customary violence and the hills would have been prepared for a prolonged series of bandhs, but now they seem to be cowed down. Perhaps some deal is being worked out with the State government and the Centre,” said a political source. Many also feel that the developments will be a further setback to the movement for a separate State of Gorkhaland, which the GJM was spearheading. “The general feeling among the people of the hills now is, if the GJM leaders are too busy trying to keep themselves out of prison where will they get the time to fight for Gorkhaland?” said a resident of Kalimpong in Darjeeling district.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay