When Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee inaugurates the new Kalimpong district at mela ground of Kalimpong town on Valentine’s Day, she may actually stoke the original love of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha -- that for their much cherished state of Gorkhaland.
Though the chief minister has been able to cut to size Bimal Gurung and his outfit Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and quell the Gorkhaland movement, the new district may give rise to new complications. Gurung has also threatened to launch a new stir when the new district comes up.
At the heart of the matter is a dispute over holding rural polls in the district that may stoke agitations afresh.
“If Kalimpong people demand three-tier panchayat polls, and want to stay out of GTA, the state government might look into their demand. It’s heading for a complete mess,” Rajen Mukhia, president Darjeeling district hills Trinamool Congress.
“We always supported a separate district of Kalimong. But the state government should have consulted all the stake holders including GTA, but it has not done so. Now things are heading towards a complete mess,” said Amar Singh Rai, GJM MLA from Darjeeling.
Kalimpong that is now a sub division is remotely located and it needed upgrade to a district for solving day-to-day administrative problems that residents faced. Less than two years ago Mamata Banerjee promised to turn Kalimpong into a district to alleviate their problems.
Political leaders point out that one of the questions that will emerge, is whether the new district will remain under the jurisdiction of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), an autonomous development body formed in 2012 after second round of Gorkhaland movement in three hill sub divisions of Darjeeling district.
A section of the people in Kalimpong including Harka Bhadur Chettri, the former leader of GJM who is now the president of Jana Andolan Party (JAP) that is close to the chief minister think that there should be a three-tier panchayat system in the new district. In the rest of the hill areas in Darjeeling district – Kurseong and Darjeeling sub divisions- the one-tier panchayat system should prevail. Incidentally, elections were held in these panchayat areas in 2004.
Many feel in case the state decides to hold three-tier panchayat election in Kalimpong district, which is still under the jurisdiction of GTA, it should also do the same in remaining two hill sub divisions of Darjeeling district. But, the existence of Mahakuma Parishad in Siliguri sub division of Darjeeling district and the existence of GTA in Darjeeling hills make things complicated.
The Constitution was amended to make room for the Mahakuma Parishad (top most tier of panchayat system for only Siliguri sub division of Darjeeling district) when the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) was formed for remaining three hill subdivisions in 1988 after violent Gorkhaland movement. Subsequently, DGHC was dissolved and replaced by the GTA.
The formation of Kalimpong district is also set to challenge the might of Bimal Gurung. Recently, the GJM students association lost the student council election to JAP in Kalimpong College.
Over the past few years, the Mamata Banerjee government formed 15 development boards for different Gorkha communities much against the will of GJM. Most of these boards are headquartered in Kalimpong where JAP has aggressively campaigned to highlight how GTA has deprived Kalimpong sub division.
The state government has already allotted almost Rs 300 crore to the development boards. Bimal Gurung, the GTA chief executive, has claimed the amount is more than that given to the GTA by the state government.
Though Gurung has also welcomed the decision to form a separate Kalimpong district, he has questioned the motive of the chief minister and has threatened to intensify the Gorkhaland stir. He has called upon hill people to understand the ‘ulterior’ motive of the state government to divide the hill communities through development boards and prepare for Gorkhaland stir.
Kalimpong, once under the Bhtanese to the east of Teesta River was ceded to the British East India Company through the Treaty of Sinchula in 1865 after Anglo-Bhutan War in 1864. Kalimpong was added to Darjeeling district in 1866.
Due to its proximity to the Nathu La and Jelep La, Kalimpong became an important trading outpost in the trade between India and Tibet. Kalimpong used to be an Indo-Tibet gateway before China’s annexation of Tibet and the Sino-Indian War.
Kalimpong was also at the centre stage of the violent movement for separate Gorkhaland state in the 1980s, and from 2008 to 2011. The police firing on July 27 1986 in Kalimpong on the supporters of Gorkhaland killed several and moved the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland to a higher gear.