Darjeeling parties surprised as Centre changes Delhi meet’s agenda from Gorkhaland to GTA
Political parties in the Darjeeling hills were taken by surprise on Monday when the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) sent a letter to the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in West Bengal and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s (GJM) founder Bimal Gurung-led faction and stated that the agenda of the meeting convened in Delhi on Wednesday (October 7) had been changed from “issues related to Gorkhaland” to “issues related to Gorkhaland Territorial Administration” (GTA).
GTA is the local autonomous body in the Darjeeling hills, which is headed by the Binoy Tamang-led faction of the GJM that supports the TMC.
The meeting has been convened by G Kishan Reddy, Union minister of state (MoS) for MHA at the ministry’s North Block office in the national capital.
HK Dwivedi, the newly appointed Bengal home secretary, and Darjeeling district magistrate (DM) S Ponnambalam have been asked to attend the meeting.
The first letter was issued on October 3 and another was sent two days later. Both the letters are marked “most immediate”.
Significantly, both the letters are marked to the “President, GJM” and the address mentioned is that of party’s founder Bimal Gurung’s office at Singamari in North Point, Darjeeling.
Gurung had signed the GTA accord on behalf of the undivided GJM in July 2011.
Gurung, who had founded the GJM and clamped a 104-day shutdown in the Darjeeling hills in 2017 in demand for a separate state, is on the run ever since he was charged by the state under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967.
In November 2017, Gurung’s erstwhile lieutenant Tamang suspended him and his aides in their absence.
Anit Thapa, a leader of the GJM’s Tamang faction and the chairman of the board of administrators of the GTA, on Sunday said, “The Centre is making a fool of the Gorkhas. It has called a meeting because the Bengal assembly polls will be held next year. A court order had said both Gurung and Tamang are presidents of the GJM. How can Gurung be invited alone for the tripartite talks?”
On Monday, Thapa was not available for comment.
GJM leaders, who belong to the Tamang faction, said they were surprised that the Centre changed the agenda of the meeting.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat thrice since 2009 by forging an alliance with the GJM. In 2019, the BJP had an alliance with the GJM’s Gurung faction, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and other smaller hill parties.
Since 2009, the BJP has been promising to find a permanent political solution to the long-pending demands of people of Darjeeling, Siliguri, the Terai and the Dooars region. The promises were made in the BJP’s election manifestos in 2014 and 2019 as well.
Though not invited to the meeting, Ajoy Edwards, president of the GNLF Darjeeling branch committee, had earlier welcomed the Centre’s move.
He had said the GNLF is also an alliance partner of the BJP. Reacting to the second letter, Edwards said, “We will hold our own meeting in Darjeeling on the same day and take a call.”
TMC spokesperson and Dum Dum Lok Sabha Member of Parliament (MP) Saugata Roy said the Centre has called the meeting to create disturbance because assembly elections are due in around six months.
“There is no official reason for convening the meeting. The Centre simply wants to create disturbance in the Darjeeling hills. Also, the letter is directly addressed to state government officials. We had told the Centre time and again that it should not be done and instead communications should be sent to the state government,” said Roy.
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