The West Bengal district of Darjeeling and its adjoining areas have been paralysed by an indefinite strike, the second in as many weeks, called by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM). The GJM under Bimal Gurung has emerged as the new face of the ‘Gorkhaland’ agitation. The demand for a separate state for Gorkha-speaking people had a bloody run through much of the 1980s under Subhas Ghising’s Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF). That agitation ended in 1988 with the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), a statutory body that enjoys wide administrative and political privileges in the district.
The ongoing agitation is, in a sense, ‘Gorkhaland: The Resurrection’. Mr Ghising’s support has eroded over the last 20 years as he constantly battled allegations of corruption, nepotism, inefficiency and autocracy of the DGHC. A faction in the GNLF shifted allegiance to the GJM, accusing Mr Ghising of selling out. Under Mr Gurung, Mr Ghising’s protégé-turned-rival, the issue of statehood has been brought back. The Bengal government now wants to further empower the DGHC, something that the GJM considers to be a red herring. But with this renewed demand, comes a renewed danger. Last week, parts of north Bengal were crippled leaving locals and tourists stranded. Adding fuel to the fire have been fly-by-night ‘Bengali’ goons who have unleashed violence against locals. With Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government yet to decide on what to talk about with the GJM leadership, these lumpen elements have been allowed to showcase their violent ‘anti-Gorkhaland’ stand.
It is imperative that Mr Bhattacharjee immediately clamps down on these people who are itching to feed off the vacuum that exists before GJM-government talks happen. The state government can take its time to decide what issues need to be on the table during talks. The last thing we need is a new round of ethnic violence.