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Darjeeling unrest: Mamata Banerjee corners BJP but may have to pay for political brinkmanship

It was Mamata Banerjee’s announcement to make Bengali language compulsory in schools that gave Bimal Gurung, the GJM chief, an opportunity to regain his dwindling political stocks

analysis Updated: Jun 20, 2017 07:19 IST
DK Singh
DK Singh
New Delhi
Mamata Banerjee,Gorkhaland Janmukti Morcha,Bimal Gurung
Security personnel fire teargas shells during a protest by GJM activists in Darjeeling.(PTI file photo)

Darjeeling hills appear headed for a prolonged spell of unrest over Gorkhaland issue, thanks to the conflicting interests of major stakeholders including the BJP, the Trinamool Congress and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).

Three people have died in police firing, several security officials injured and property worth crores destroyed as a violent agitation for a separate Gorkha state rocks the picturesque hill station of Darjeeling.

Having seen how the Congress paid heavily for its Telangana gambit months before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP is wary.

In December 2009, alarmed by the deteriorating health of K Chandrasekhar Rao who was on a fast-unto-death to press for his demand for a separate Telangana state, then union home Minister P Chidambaram issued a statement saying that the process of forming Telangana would be initiated.

The Centre later tried to wriggle out of it by forming the Srikrishna committee for consultation on the situation in Andhra Pradesh but it was too late. The chain of events set off by Chidambaram’s statement eventually forced the then ruling Congress to give in ahead of the general elections. The Congress was wiped out in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh Lok Sabha and assembly elections that followed.

The BJP is, therefore, wary of initiating any process that could land it in a similar trap over Gorkhaland. The party does have its share of state bifurcation history as the NDA had presided over the formation of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand in 2000. But anti-bifurcation sentiments in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh were not so strong then, as one witnessed over Telangana.

With chief minister Mamata Banerjee turning the Gorkhaland issue into one of Bengali pride and sub-nationalism, the BJP, once a votary of smaller states, can’t risk its ambitions in West Bengal—with 42 Lok Sabha seats—by supporting Gorkhaland. They would rather leave it to Mamata Banerjee government to take the lead in resolving the crisis.

BJP leaders maintain that they never promised statehood in 2009 or 2014 manifesto and all that they committed was to “sympathetically examine and appropriately consider” the long-pending demand of Gorkhas. Party leaders are not inclined to get into what they believe could be a ‘Telangana trap’ by taking any follow-up action in pursuance of the party’s pre-poll promise.

Facing heat from the BJP in West Bengal, the chief minister might be savouring the discomfiture in the BJP camp at this moment but she would soon realize the perils of her brinkmanship in Darjeeling. It was her announcement to make Bengali language compulsory in schools that gave Bimal Gurung, the GJM chief, an opportunity to regain his dwindling political stocks . She might have cornered the BJP for now but West Bengal might have to pay the price for her political misadventure in the long run.

First Published: Jun 19, 2017 15:13 IST