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Darjeeling crisis deepens: Hill parties unite to demand Gorkhaland

Even Gorkha National Liberation Front, an ally of Trinamool Congress in the civic polls that took place in May, emphasised the need for a separate state.

kolkata Updated: Jun 13, 2017 23:29 IST
Pramod Giri
Pramod Giri
Hindustan Times
GJM,BJP,Trinamool Congress
File picture of police vehicles set ablaze allegedly by GJM supporters in Darjeeling on June 8. With the hill parties unanimously deciding to push for a separate state, the confrontation with the Mamata Banerjee administration may intensify in the coming days. (HT Photo)

The crisis in Darjeeling seemed to deepen with the all-party meeting called by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leaders on Tuesday afternoon ending a unanimous decision to fight for a separate state of Gorkhaland that was a direct challenge to chief minister Mamata Banerjee who has vowed not to allow a split of Bengal.

The five political parties and an apolitical body that attended the meeting were -- GJM, Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), Gorkhaland Rajya Nirman Morcha, Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh (apolitical), Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists and BJP. The meeting started at 1:30 pm and went on till 4 pm.

Read:If I don’t fight for Gorkhaland, hill people will not spare me: Bimal Gurung

Though two parties -- All India Gorkha League (AIGL) and Jan Andolan Party (JAP) -- did not attend, their leaders expressed their support for a separate state.

GJM supporters agitating in Darjeeling in 2015. (Samir Jana)

“We have unanimously decided to fight for Gorkhaland,” said GJM general secretary Roshan Giri. R P Waiba, the vice-president of GJM chaired the meeting in absence of Morcha president Bimal Gurung.

Suman Sharma, assistant secretary of the BJP Hill district committee, was present in the meeting. “I signed the resolution supporting Gorkhaland,” he told HT. BJP Hill Committee president, Manoj Dewan, told HT that he deputed Sharma to attend the meeting.

For ruling Trinamool Congress, the decision of the all-party meeting signals a setback. GNLF, its ally in the recently concluded civic elections that helped it to post a victory in Mirik municipality -- the first by a party from the plains in decades -- clearly voted for a separate state. “Trinamool Congress was our electoral ally and not an ideological ally. It was in a different context. This is politics, the art of the possible,” Niraj Zimba, the spokesperson of GNLF, who was present at the meeting told the media.

Read: Darjeeling’s British legacy: A journey in time

“GNLF was sold out earlier. They just made an alliance with us for electoral benefits. They pretended to be with us, but actually helped GJM to win the polls,” alleged Darjeeling district Trinamool president and state tourism minister Gautam Deb.

Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has vowed not to allow Gorkhaland to carved out of West Bengal. (HT Photo)

BJP leaders, too, were a tad uncomfortable. While a BJP representative was present in the meeting, he did not stay back for the press conference. In Kolkata, party’s national secretary and former state president Rahul Sinha told HT, “We will find out what happened in the meeting. But let me state that BJP is against the division of Bengal.”

Incidentally, GJM is an ally of the NDA. In its manifestos of 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP stated that it would “sympathetically examine and appropriately consider the long pending demands of the Gorkhas.” Though BJP leaders never spelt out their support for Gorkhaland, GJM has always considered these words as an endorsement of the same.

Meanwhile, on the ground normal life was completely paralysed in the hills on Tuesday, the second day of the GJM-sponsored indefinite bandh in offices of the state and Cwntral government and Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, thanks to a one-day general strike called by 25 tea unions. Tea is the biggest industry in north Bengal and employs about three lakh workers. On Tuesday, police lathicharged a rally by GJM workers in Darjeeling.

Read: Kalimpong district may stoke Gorkhaland fire

Apart from the vow to fight for Gorkhaland, two resolutions were adopted in Tuesday’s meeting. The parties described as unfortunate the police action on June 8 and on Tuesday. They also said that the chief minister should issue a clarification that Bengali should remain an optional subject in the hills and not impose it on students in the region.

File picture of AIGL leader Bharti Tamang. Though she did not attend the meeting on Tuesday, she said Gorkhaland was the only permanent solution. (Samir Jana)

AIGL chief Bharati Tamang, who is the wife of slain leader Madan Tamang said just a day ago that she supported the demand for Gorkhaland. (Incidentally, Bimal Gurung and other GJM leaders are among the accused in the murder of Madan Tamang on May 21, 2010.) JAP president Harka Bahadur Chhetri, who was a GJM leader, also endorsed a separate state as the only long term solution to the problem.

The latest bout of trouble started on June 8 when a clash broke out between GJM supporters agitating against what they alleged as ‘imposition’ of Bengali on hill students by the chief minister. The administration had to seek the help of the army even as the police failed to control the situation even in the presence of the chief minister.

The all-party meeting also called for collective leadership to push for Gorkhaland.

An official of the state home department said that the Centre has verbally communicated that it will send a set of queries on the existing situation in Darjeeling. “Once we get it officially, we will send a reply after consultation with thee chief minister,” said the official.

First Published: Jun 13, 2017 17:50 IST