West Bengal

Helmsman Bimal Gurung

Print edition : January 24, 2014

Bimal Gurung with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee after a meeting in Kolkata on December 20. Photo: PTI

THE Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supremo Bimal Gurung’s rejoining the recently formed Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) Sabha, after resigning as its chief executive barely five months ago, is yet another indication of a return of peace in the strife-torn Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal.

On December 26, Gurung was once again sworn in as chief executive of the elected GTA Sabha, which the GJM controls, having won all the 45 seats practically unopposed in 2012. Following the swearing-in, Gurung commented on a social network site, “GTA is a necessity to empower the hill youth, create job opportunities and develop infrastructure in the region so that the proposed Gorkhaland territory does not turn into an underdeveloped region that would destroy a generation in this period of strife and agitation. While the GTA is preparing the region for statehood in terms of infrastructure development, the GJM would apply relentless political pressure on the Central government for it.”

The last sentence highlights the point that the GJM has no intention of locking horns with the State government on the issue of Gorkhaland anymore. In November, the party announced that it would be shifting its agitation for Gorkhaland from the Centre to the State. “Our main focus is now to run the GTA in a proper manner. There will be no more bandhs and agitation in Darjeeling,” GJM general secretary Roshan Giri had then told Frontline.

In July 2013, when Gurung resigned from the GTA after the Centre gave its nod for the formation of a separate Telangana State, he had called the GTA a “failure” and had announced a prolonged agitation for a separate Gorkhaland State. After Gurung resigned, senior party leader Binay Tamang, who was at that time in prison, was elected chief executive of the GTA Sabha. However, it is no secret that whoever heads the GTA, it is Gurung’s word that is final in the hills. Since then, the GJM has been seen to tone down its agitation for separate statehood, and its attitude towards the West Bengal government has been more reconciliatory than combative. After the swearing-in, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee congratulated the people of Darjeeling for the recent developments and said “a new innings of peace” had begun.

Political rivals see Gurung’s return to the GTA Sabha and the GJM’s softening of stance as a betrayal of the Gorkhaland cause. “This has come as no surprise to the people of the hills. Bimal Gurung has never really wanted Gorkhaland, the GTA is his only dream. He is a counter-leader who is derailing the Gorkhaland movement at the bidding of his political master— the West Bengal government,” Pratap Khati, leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL), told Frontline.

According to political sources in the hills, the GJM’s change in attitude could also be attributed to its own decline in power and the rise of other political forces in the region, including the Trinamool Congress and the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), the party which ruled Darjeeling for 22 years before being ousted by the GJM.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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