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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

Darjeeling settles down post GJM bandh, but Bengal’s hunt for Gurung could disturb peace

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha called for the bandh in protest against the Bengal government imposing Bengali in schools in the hills.

kolkata Updated: Sep 29, 2017 13:40 IST
Pramod Giri
Pramod Giri
Hindustan Times, Darjeeling
Supporters of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) taking part in a protest amid a strike called by the GJM in Darjeeling. The indefinite strike and shutdown came to an end on September 27 after 104 days.
Supporters of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) taking part in a protest amid a strike called by the GJM in Darjeeling. The indefinite strike and shutdown came to an end on September 27 after 104 days. (AFP Photo)

The hills of Darjeeling are alive again, the sights and sounds of Durga Puja festivities marking a gradual return to normalcy after a 104-day shutdown seeking creation of a separate Gorkhaland state. But a big question mark still hangs over West Bengal’s hill districts: will the peace last long?

And at the heart of this fear is the Mamata Banerjee government’s relentless efforts to track and arrest Bimal Gurung, the chief of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and one of the key players in the statehood movement.

Gurung withdrew the shutdown late on Tuesday night after home minister Rajnath Singh appealed to him to restore normalcy and asked the Union home secretary to hold talks within a fortnight.

Gurung, who tops the wanted list of Bengal police for the violence that rocked the hills since June 8, is in hiding. His wife Asha Gurung, who heads the women’s wing of the party, has warned that the hills will burn again if he is arrested.

Ever since GJM raised its voice against the Bengal government’s decision to make Bengali compulsory in schools in the hills, and demanded creation of a separate state, Gurung has become an offender for Banerjee.

Though Gurung has held the state responsible for the death of 12 people, including a policeman, he faces charges under anti-terror law.

The Bengal government’s tough stand vis-a-vis the Centre’s stoic silence all these months made it virtually impossible for GJM and the 15 other political parties and groups in Darjeeling hills to draft a proper road map. All they could do was carry on with the bandh which caused immense trouble for the common people and helped the administration create a split in the GJM.

Saman Pathak. a senior CPI (M) leader and former Rajya Sabha MP from Darjeeling said, “The future of Darjeeling hills depends largely on the state government. So far it has played a negative role and the masses continue to support Gurung.”

With the state government backing Binay Tamang, the ousted GJM assistant secretary, Gurung knows that although he enjoys mass support it will be impossible for him to lead the people unless he emerges from his hideout. And, he also knows that his arrest will take the movement back to square one.

Gurung’s followers in the GJM were not invited to the September 12 bilateral meeting the state government had convened. Instead, the government called Binay Tamang.

Later, Tamang and Anit Thapa, another expelled GJM leader, were appointed chairman and vice chairman of the board of administrators of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA).

Tamang and his followers now claim that the movement for Gorkhaland can be taken forward by maintaining a “working relation” with the state government. Gurung on the other hand says Tamang and Thapa have betrayed the cause of Gorkhaland.

Claiming that Gurung did not enjoy mass support, Goutam Deb, state tourism minister and Trinamool district president, said, “Gurung took the entire Darjeeling hostage to fulfill his selfish interest.”

SS Ahluwalia, BJP Lok Sabha MP from Darjeeling, held the state government responsible for the ordeal of the hill people. “The Bengal government should do some introspection on why and where it went wrong,” he said.

The local population has always been very sensitive to the Gorkhaland issue and the majority continues to believe that Gurung is sincere to the cause, said Pathak. “But unless Gurung comes forward and leads the movement his popularity will wane fast,” he added.

Many political observers hold the Centre responsible for Gurung’s plight. Gurung expected the Centre to address the Gorkhaland issue while he severed all ties with the Mamata Banerjee government. His faith was based on the fact that the GJM backed the BJP in 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections. His followers in the GJM are now looking forward to the outcome of the meeting Rajnath Singh has announced.

First Published: Sep 29, 2017 13:40 IST