Mamata Banerjee draws up two-pronged strategy to restore peace in Darjeeling
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Mamata Banerjee draws up two-pronged strategy to restore peace in Darjeeling

The strategy was chalked out at a high-level meeting chief minister chaired at the state secretariat on Saturday afternoon.

india Updated: Jun 18, 2017 22:42 IST
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Mamata Banerjee,Darjeeling unrest,Gorkha Janmukti Morcha
Supporter of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) clash with security forces in Darjeeling on Saturday. (AFP File Photo)

The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in West Bengal has devised a two- pronged strategy to quell the ongoing crisis in Darjeeling hills and to isolate the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which is spearheading the agitation.

The first part of the strategy entails creating a rift among the agitators by using representatives of all the 15 development boards set up for different communities in the hills.

Secondly, the state government wants to use the ongoing GJM agitation to cut off the hills’ ration supply line from the plains in a bid to push the agitators on the back- foot. This, the state government believes will isolate GJM from the other hill communities and will eventually force them to surrender and come to the negotiating table.

A veiled hint about the possibility of cutting off the ration supply was given by the chief minister herself on Saturday afternoon when she said if the unrest continues then sending rations or essential commodities to hills from the plains will become difficult.

“I wonder how the supply line will get normal if trouble persists. So, I request all to stop this violence and call off the strike. Once the strike is called off, we are ready for talks,” she said.

As part of the first part of the strategy, office bearers of the development boards will be asked to persuade their followers to break away from the ongoing GJM-led agitation for a separate Gorkhaland state.

The strategy was chalked out at a high-level meeting at the state secretariat, Nabanna, on Saturday afternoon. The meeting was chaired by the chief minister and attended by the head of the 15 development boards, senior members of cabinet, top bureaucrats and police officers.

A senior bureaucrat said that since the hills are dependent on the plains for ration and other essential commodities, it will not be possible for the GJM to continue with their strike for an indefinite period.

Once the supply is dried up, he said, “They will have no other option but to call of the strike and come for negotiation.”

The fresh agitation in the hills has been sparked by fears of Bengali being imposed in schools in the GJM-administered areas where a majority of the people are Nepali-speaking.

Though the government clarified that Bengali will be an optional subject, the GJM refused to back down and instead revived the almost 100-year-old demand for a separate Gorkhaland.

The official said the situation in the hills aggravated as many non-Gorkhas who claim allegiance to the development boards constituted for their communities, joined hands with the GJM.

“Heads of these development boards have been asked to persuade their people to disassociate from the agitation and violence,” the official said, “Once the number of agitators starts dwindling, the protest is bound to subside.”

Tamsang Lepcha, head of Mayel Lyang Lepcha Development Board, biggest and most influential among the 15 bodies, told HT that a committee comprising members of these boards, constituted to restore peace in the hills, will speak to people and persuade them to shun violence and call off strike.

“We will explain to people how their lives have changed for better following the formation of these development boards, which took up lots of welfare activities,” he said.

The committee will convey to the people chief minister’s message that the government is willing to sit for talks once the strike is called off, he added.

Apart from the Lepchas, developments boards have been created for Bhutias, Limbus, Mangars, Khambu Rais, Kamis, Sarkis, Damais, Newars, Bhujels, Gurungs, Tamangs and Sherpas, among others.

GJM president Bimal Gurung had often criticised chief minister over this creation of the development boards terming it a “divisive tactics” to divide the people of the hills.

First Published: Jun 18, 2017 15:54 IST