On Friday, May 21, at 9.30 am, a mainstream Indian politician was hacked to death by assailants in front of a crowd, policemen and mediapersons. Almost a week later, authorities are yet to know who or which organisation committed the murder. Even for a nation that has witnessed too many cases of political violence, the killing of Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL) leader Madan Tamang in Darjeeling, West Bengal, is shocking.
Darjeeling, belying its old ‘hill station’ status, has seen violence, especially in the mid-80s during the agitation for a separate state of ‘Gorkhaland’ under the leadership of Gorkha National Liberation Front chief Subash Gishing. The violence had abated with the signing of the Darjeeling Hill Accord between the Rajiv Gandhi-led central government and Mr Gishing and the demand for a separate state in the Nepali-speaking areas of northern West Bengal was shelved. But later two players dug up the issue and claimed to continue the Gorkhaland agitation: the Tamang-led ABGL and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) headed by Bimal Gurung. In the post-Gishing politics, the GJM became the dominant force in Darjeeling politics. But Tamang, rejecting the GJM’s violent and autocratic methods of agitations, set up a democratic front with the BJP and the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists. This was construed by Mr Gurung as a challenge to his sole representation of the cause.
It is in this background that Tamang’s assassination is being seen by the people of Darjeeling as the handiwork of the GJM. The spontaneous outpouring of anger against Mr Gurung’s entry into Darjeeling town — unthinkable till Friday — on Tuesday showcased popular resentment against the institutionalised violence Darjeeling has been subjected to under GJM sway and reached an apogee with Tamang’s murder. What is remarkable is that the state government’s response has been muted. Bengal Governor M.K. Narayanan, an old Darjeeling-GNLF hand, must ensure that the guilty is brought to justice and that the district does not spiral out of control once again. But above all, the Centre should do whatever needs to be done to see to it that the people of Darjeeling, ironically galvanised by Tamang’s murder against the atmosphere of violence and corruption they have been living in, don’t become collateral damage in an ugly turf war that the state government doesn’t care to stop perpetuating.