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After the talks: Fresh uncertainty over lifting of bandh in Darjeeling

The sharp difference of opinion between the hardliners and the moderates in Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has created a lot of confusion.

kolkata Updated: Aug 30, 2017 11:30 IST
Pramod Giri
Pramod Giri
Hindustan Times
Mamata Banerjee,Darjeeling,Gorkhaland
File picture of army personnel patrolling the streets of Darjeeling. The dominant question in the hills now is when will the indefinite shutdown end.(HT Photo)

When will the bandh end, is the dominant question in the Darjeeling hills after Tuesday’s talks between the agitators demanding Gorkhaland and chief minister Mamata Banerjee, but the uncertainty over lifting of the shutdown is not clearing yet.

The hills of north Bengal are under the spell of an indefinite shutdown that started on June 15 and entered its 77th day on Wednesday. So far nine persons have lost their lives in the violence and firing by security forces. Shops and markets, educational institutes and business establishments have remained closed all over the hills causing untold misery to the common people.

The shutdown that started on June 15 has severely affected the local economy dependent on tourism and tea industry. ( HT Photo )

Bimal Gurung, the hardliner president of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) that is the most influential party in Darjeeling, has said that the bandh will continue till talks start on the creation of a new state. Significantly, while on August 13 Union home minister Rajnath Singh has made it clear that the Centre is not interested in carving out a new state from Bengal, on Tuesday chief minister Mamata Banerjee has told the agitators that Gorkhaland was not in the jurisdiction of the state government, and neither can she request the Centre to work towards it.

Read: Darjeeling talks: Separate Gorkhaland beyond our jurisdiction, says Mamata

“The indefinite shutdown will continue. It will be lifted only after talks begin on the creation of the state of Gorkhaland. If anybody lifts the bandh, he will do so at his own risk,” said Gurung in an audio statement circulated immediately after the meeting in the state secretariat.

A section of the GJM leaders, who are moderate, indicate that they are ready to consider lifting of the bandh, but they are not ready to comment officially. Binay Tamang, GJM coordinator who led the Morcha team of five to the meeting have said that they will return to the hills and discuss the question in a central committee meeting.

The situation has been complicated by different statements by Tamang and Gurung. The GJM president who is hiding after UA(P)A sections were slapped against him in two cases, said that he will hold a meeting in the next two-three days and decide the bandh issue along with other important decisions.

During the bandh agitators have set ablaze vehicles, government offices, toy train stations, police stations and tourist bungalows. A total of nine persons have been killed in the violence. ( HT Photo )

“Bimal Gurung can’t attend the central committee meeting as he is hiding. So we have no idea where and with whom will he hold a meeting separately,” said a GJM leader on conditions of anonymity.

Read: Gorkhaland stir: No school, playground or internet for children in Darjeeling

It’s this virtual split in the party that has triggered fresh uncertainty on the lifting of the bandh.

Intriguingly, the resurfacing of Sanjay Thulung, a former GJM leader after three years, is adding to the confusion. Thulung was implicated in an arms case by the CID. He was accused of providing funds to a North East based militant outfit to train some hill youths. From an undisclosed location, Thulung told reporters, “”Those who have gone to attend the talks should speak only on Gorkhaland. They must keep in mind that if they go into any understanding with the state, they will have to face the consequences.”

In the meeting, the chief minister appealed to the agitators to withdraw the bandh and let normal life return to the hills. GJM coordinator who led the Morcha team of five to the meeting have said that they will return to the hills and discuss the question.

Read: Gorkhaland stir: Bengalis of Darjeeling feel alienated after burning of historic hall in Kurseong

A GJM leader told HT that none wants to take the risk of announcing the end of the bandh as they fear it may trigger adverse public reaction, a large section of whom want a separate state.

Apart from GJM, Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and Jan Andolan Party (JAP) participated in Tuesday’s meeting.

The hills are on the boil since June 8 when the GJM supporters protesting against the state government’s move to make Bengali compulsory up to class 10 clashed with the police in Darjeeling in front of the chief minister.

The agitators -- GJM is an ally of the NDA -- pinned their hopes on the Centre. But their hopes were dashed when the Union home minister asked them to speak to the Bengal chief minister.

First Published: Aug 30, 2017 11:30 IST