TMC ally Gorkha leader Bimal Gurung opposes Mamata’s Darjeeling poll plan
SILIGURI: More than a year after dumping his old ally Bharatiya Janata Party, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) president Bimal Gurung started an indefinite fast in Darjeeling on Wednesday to oppose chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s plans to hold the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) polls in June.
Gurung allied with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) ahead of the 2021 assembly polls and his opposition to the local election complicates the situation for the TMC because the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), the second-largest party in the hills after GJM, have already opposed the polls along with some of the smaller Gorkha outfits.
“I am ready to die to stop the GTA election,” Gurung said before starting his fast at the GJM office at Singamari in Darjeeling.
The state election commission has indicated that the polls will be held on June 26 although a formal notification is likely to be issued on Friday.
Darjeeling and surrounding areas come under the jurisdiction of the semi-autonomous GTA council which is entrusted with local development.
During his visit to north Bengal on May 5, Union home minister Amit Shah said at a BJP rally that holding GTA elections will not solve the problems in the hills although he did not mention anything on the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland for which the GNLF and later, the GJM, led violent agitations in phases since the 1980s.
“Didi misleads our Gorkha brothers and sisters. Only the BJP feels for them. We will solve all their problems according to the provisions of the Constitution. Didi, holding the GTA elections will not solve the problems,” Shah said on May 5.
On Wednesday, BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar opposed the GTA polls but did not offer any direct support to Gurung.
“Only a three-tier panchayat election can solve the problem in the hills. We may move court to stop the GTA polls. This decision will be taken later,” Majumdar said in Kolkata.
Gurung, who helped the BJP win the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat thrice in a row since 2009, unsuccessfully led a 104-day-long movement in 2017 before going underground to escape arrest on charges registered under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA.
He resurfaced in Kolkata in October 2020 and announced his support for the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the assembly elections, severing ties with the BJP. The police have not touched him since then.
The state government announced the proposed date for the GTA election on Tuesday after an all-party meeting in Darjeeling. The meeting was boycotted by the BJP and its allies - the GNLF, Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM) and All India Gorkha League (AIGL).
The GJM, which won all 45 seats in the GTA council in the last election held in 2012, has been reiterating that GTA cannot fulfil the aspiration of the Gorkhas.
Gurung’s followers burned copies of the tripartite GTA agreement - in which the Centre is a signatory - during the 2017 agitation.
The GJM wants the state government to honour the July 2011 GTA agreement “in letter and spirit” and also bring 396 mouzas in the Terai and the Dooars regions under the GTA.
The GNLF, on the other hand, believes that the GTA is unconstitutional. It has filed a writ petition before Kolkata high court.
The BJP, CPRM and AIGL have said that only a permanent political solution can bring peace to the hills.
Since 2017, when the tenure of the last elected council ended, the GTA was being run by nominated members. This council was dissolved before the 2021 assembly election and an administrative officer was asked to take charge.
Neeraj Zimba, the BJP legislator from Darjeeling, said: “Parties opposing the GTA polls will fight tooth and nail against the state government’s decision.”
The recently launched Hamro Party, which won the Darjeeling municipality elections in March, and the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha want to contest the GTA polls.
TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh avoided naming Gurung.
“Trouble is being created when normalcy is returning to the hills and the chief minister is focusing on development. I do not want to comment on any individual,” Ghosh said.
The Congress blamed local parties and the state government for the prolonged unrest in Darjeeling.
Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said: “Bimal Gurung is agitating because he has lost popularity. He knows he will lose if he contests. Darjeeling has lost its charm as a tourist destination because of the prolonged unrest. People visit Sikkim these days.”
The Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh (BGP), the only national organisation of Indian Gorkhas, said it considers the recent discussions and debates around the GTA polls as a diversion from the “crucial issue of a separate state.”
“BGP reiterates its opposition to anything that is short of a separate state, viewing the latter as the only democratic arrangement that guarantees the right of the Gorkha community to self-realisation in their own country,” said the statement jointly issued by Munish Tamang, working president, and secretary-general Nirmal Pun.
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