‘Gorkhaland agitation turning into mass movement, hill parties not in control’
The call for a separate Gorkhaland state, comprising the northern hills of West Bengal, is fast turning into a people’s movement as thousands from all walks of life are joining the agitation spontaneously and demanding for a “final push”.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which started the agitation and remains at the forefront, appears to be giving in to aspirations of the common people. And, nobody is quite sure how the movement will develop in the coming months.
Ajit Lama, a tea garden worker, whose daily life points to the hand-to-mouth existence that people in this region face, said hundreds of people are carrying their own water and food from home every day just to join the rallies.
“Common people from far-flung areas are spending their hard-earned wages to join rallies. After watching one movement after another fail over the past few decades they are now determined to give the final push,” the 45-year-old resident of Nehore Balasan, about nine km from Sonada, said.
“They have not been asked by any political party or leader to do so,” added Lama.
Lama doesn’t seem to be overreacting. People, irrespective of party affiliation, are hitting the streets in every nook and cranny of these hills.
Gorkhaland has always been an emotional issue for them and political parties such as the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and later, the GJM, have projected their movement as a quest for the political identity of the Indian Gorkha.
The death of three GJM supporters on June 17 apparently gave the hill people an adequate reason to raise their voice against the Trinamool Congress government led by Mamata Banerjee.
Though GJM and other parties claim that people joining the movement are their supporters, those demanding for Gorkhaland in rallies or on the social media, disagree vehemently.
Thirty-five-year-old Santosh Subba, a school teacher from Tindharia, said he had never seen people reacting so spontaneously.
“This movement is different from the rest. People are supporting the cause, not the parties. This time, people are not going to listen to the leaders if they say the movement can’t go any further,” said Subba.
It is no secret that the GJM was losing its base in the hills till the state government announced that Bengali would be taught as a compulsory subject in all schools till Class 10, triggering a controversy that subsequently led to the unrest.
On May 14, a month before the violence erupted in Darjeeling, the GJM lost control of the Mirik municipality while Trinamool made its electoral debut in the hills. GJM chief Bimal Gurung was facing an acid test Binay Tamang, the GJM assistant secretary, had to face people’s ire barely two weeks ago when he visited Mirik.
“Now we are ready to sacrifice everything. But we will not allow our leaders to compromise and give up halfway through the movement,” said Binod Khaling, a resident of Mirik.
It is evident that after the death of the three GJM supporters during clashes with the police on June 17, people forgot their political differences and affiliations. It also helped the GJM rope in other parties and organisations including the Bharatiya Janata Party.
At an all-party meeting on June 13, the parties unanimously resolved to fight for Gorkhaland. But GJM and GNLF leaders admit in private that had they not taken cognizance of the demand of the people, they would have to face the fury of the masses.
While the meeting was on, people had gathered in hundreds outside the Gymkhana Hall. They were shouting slogans that could be heard from inside. “We will not accept anything but Gorkhaland ... The ongoing bandh should not be withdrawn,” they said.
Under these circumstances, the GJM leadership had no option but to accept the condition put forward by GNLF in return for its support and withdrew from the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). Leaders, who attended the meeting said the GJM, which was otherwise reluctant to come out of the GTA, realised the consequences and gave in to the pressure.
“This time around, people will not accept anything less than Gorkhaland and the GNLF will go all the way to ensure that. But people will not spare GJM leaders if they back out,” Mahindra Chettri, GNLF general secretary, said.
Public sentiments are rising not just in Darjeeling but in other towns as well. Even Mirik, where the Trinamool left its first footprint, is no exception.
“The turnout at last Sunday’s rally in Mirik was unprecedented. I didn’t see such a huge crowd even during the peak of the movement led by the GJM between 2007 to 2011,” said a local journalist in Mirik.
“After watching these developments I feel this is fast turning into a mass movement,” said a senior police officer at Kalimpong.
Darjeeling has been on the edge ever since and the popular tourist destination is paralysed because of a government clampdown on protests and an indefinite strike called by the GJM.
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