The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), the single-most powerful political force in the Darjeeling hills of West Bengal, is facing a major crisis with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) naming the entire top leadership of the party in its final charge sheet in the case of the murder of Madan Tamang, the then president of the All Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL) in 2010.
In the charge sheet filed by the CBI on May 29 before a court in Kolkata, 23 persons, including all the leaders of the GJM were charged with criminal conspiracy for murder, rioting armed with deadly weapons, and committing murder. Some of the big names indicted by the CBI include Bimal Gurung, GJM supremo and chief executive of the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA), the elected autonomous administrative body that governs the Darjeeling hills; Roshan Giri, general secretary of the GJM; Binoy Tamang, Assistant general secretary of the GJM; Pradeep Pradhan, vice president of GJM and chairman of GTA; Harka Bahadur Chhetri, GJM MLA from Kalimpong; Ramesh Alley, Deputy chief executive of GTA, and Asha Gurung, wife of Bimal Gurung and head of GJM Narimorcha, the women’s wing of the party.
On the morning of May 21, 2010, Madan Tamang, a veteran campaigner for a separate state of Gorkhaland and a vocal critic of the GJM, was brutally hacked to death by GJM activists while he was organising a rally in Darjeeling. One of the main accused in the case, Nicole Tamang, who is also mentioned in the CBI charge sheet, was arrested by the West Bengal police in August 2010, but he escaped soon after he was nabbed. When the CID (Crime Investigation Department) of the state police presented its charge sheet the same year, not a single top GJM leader’s name was in it. Subsequently, the CBI took over the case in 2011.
“This is a huge victory for justice. We now demand the immediate arrest of Bimal Gurung and the GJM leadership. We want their passports to be seized, as they may now try to leave the country,” said Pratap Khati, ABGL leader.
It is feared that this new development may plunge the Darjeeling hills into a period of uncertainty again, after the violent agitation by the GJM was finally quelled by the establishment of the GTA in which Bimal Gurung’s party won all 45 seats practically unopposed. There is also an apprehension among the people of the hills that this may be a telling blow to the movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland.
The opposition parties in the Darjeeling hills, sensing that the GJM is on the back foot, have been trying to organise themselves. On June 2, a number of the hill parties, including ABGL, the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxist (CPRM), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) met and set up a forum called the Democratic Front. “This is an attempt to re-establish democracy in the hills,” Khati told Frontline.
However, many in the hills also feel that the CBI’s charge sheet may be a political game, particularly in view of the fact that the premier investigating body named the entire top leadership, including those who had nothing to do with the killing.
Harka Bahadur Chhetri called it a “conspiracy” to weaken the GJM. “I have always maintained that those who are guilty should be punished, but it is preposterous to name all the GJM leaders in the murder. Everybody knows that when the incident occurred in Darjeeling, I was in Kalimpong. In fact, I was so unhappy about the murder that I had even resigned from the party; but the political situation was so volatile that I had to return after two days. We will let the legal process take its course, but if this is the way the CBI acts, then unfortunately we will lose all confidence in it,” Chhetri told Frontline. The CBI charge sheet has also been a cause of discomfort for the West Bengal unit of the BJP, as it had won the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat with the GJM’S support.
Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay