GJM ends 104-day strike: All about Darjeeling crisis, Gorkhaland demand
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) announced on Tuesday it was calling off the indefinite strike in the Darjeeling hills to push for a separate Gorkhaland state after an appeal by Union home minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi.
GJM called off the strike, which began in June, but said a meeting with Singh will be held in a fortnight to discuss issues related to their demands.
Here’s all you need to know about the demand for Gorkhaland:
How it began
The crisis in Darjeeling was sparked by fears of Bengali language being imposed in schools in the GJM-administered areas where a majority of the people are Nepali-speaking Gorkhas. Nepali is the official language in the hills of Bengal and it was recognised as an official language of Bengal in 1961.
GJM then revived an almost 100-year-old demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland. Its chief Bimal Gurung, from an undisclosed location, asked supporters to fight a final battle. Though the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government clarified that Bengali will be an optional subject, the GJM refused to back down.
Supporters hurled petrol bombs, stones and bottles at the police and the security forces retaliated with teargas shells, resorting to baton-charge to disperse the mobs in June. The army was deployed to control the situation as GJM held flag marches in several areas of the district.
Three protesters were killed and many wounded allegedly in police firing in Darjeeling on June 17. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee denied that three young men were killed by police bullets.
Life at a standstill
The hills of north Bengal were crippled under the indefinite bandh that started on June 15. For over 100 days now, everything in the hills from markets to schools, business establishments to entertainment zones have remained closed causing untold misery to the people.
Attempts to ease the crisis
A team of Gorkhaland supporters had met Rajnath Singh thrice in Delhi. The last meeting was on September 19.
There have been a couple of unsuccessful bilateral meetings between the agitators and Mamata Banerjee where she assured them that the government would explore whether it was possible to call a tripartite meeting to discuss the impasse.
The BJP connection
In an earlier meeting on August 13, Rajnath Singh had told the agitators to speak to the Bengal CM who has vowed not to allow another partition of Bengal. GJM, the largest political party in the hills that is also an ally of the NDA, viewed it as a betrayal of the Gorkha cause.
Ahead of the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had, in a bid to win Darjeeling seat, promised to consider the demands of the Gorkhas. BJP’s SS Ahluwalia won the seat in 2014 and is the current representative of the constituency.
Experts viewed the agitation as the GJM’s efforts to revive its political fortunes after the ruling Trinamool Congress made history by registering its first victory in a hill municipality in Mirik.
Various hill parties have been demanding a tripartite meeting and urged Banerjee to work towards one. Gorkhaland supporters have been demanding that the Centre should immediately start discussions.
The home minister’s statement did not mention whether the meeting would be a tripartite one. “In a democracy, dialogue is the only way out to resolve any problem,” Singh’s statement said.