BJP wary of committing on Gorkhaland
DARJEELING UNREST Aware of Telangana trap, may leave it to Didi to fix crisis
hills appear headed for a prolonged spell of unrest over Gorkhaland issue, thanks to the conflicting interests of major stakeholders including the BJP, the Trinamool Congress and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).
Three people have died in police firing, several security officials injured and property worth crores destroyed as a violent agitation for a separate Gorkha state rocks the picturesque hill station of Darjeeling. Having seen how the Congress paid heavily for its Telangana gambit months before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP is wary.
In December 2009, alarmed by the deteriorating health of K Chandrasekhar Rao who was on a fast-unto-death to press for his demand for a separate Telangana state, then union home Minister P Chidambaram issued a statement saying the process of forming Telangana would be initiated.
The Centre later tried to wriggle out of it by forming the Srikrishna committee for consultation on the situation in Andhra Pradesh but it was too late. The chain of events set off by Chidambaram’s statement eventually forced the then ruling Congress to give in ahead of the general elections. The Congress was wiped out in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh Lok Sabha and assembly elections that followed.
The BJP is, therefore, wary of initiating any process that could land it in a similar trap over Gorkhaland. The party does have its share of state bifurcation history as the NDA had presided over the formation of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand in 2000. But anti-bifurcation sentiments in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh were not so strong then, as one witnessed over Telangana.
With chief minister Mamata Banerjee turning the Gorkhaland issue into one of Bengali pride and sub-nationalism, the BJP, once a votary of smaller states, can’t risk its ambitions in West Bengal—with 42 Lok Sabha seats —by supporting Gorkhaland. They would rather leave it to Mamata Banerjee government to take the lead in resolving the crisis.
BJP leaders maintain that they never promised statehood in 2009 or 2014 manifesto and all that they committed was to “sympathetically examine and appropriately consider” the long-pending demand of Gorkhas. Party leaders are not inclined to get into what they believe could be a ‘Telangana trap’ by taking any follow-up action in pursuance of the party’s pre-poll promise.
Facing heat from the BJP in West Bengal, the chief minister might be savouring the discomfiture in the BJP camp at this moment but she would soon realise the perils of her brinkmanship in Darjeeling. It was her announcement to make Bengali language compulsory in schools that gave Bimal Gurung, the GJM chief, an opportunity to regain his dwindling political stocks. She might have cornered the BJP for now but West Bengal might have to pay the price for her political misadventure in the long run.
Two top Trinamool Congress leaders of Sikkim quit the party on Wednesday to protest alleged police atrocities on protesters leading a statehood agitation in West Bengal’s hill districts, including the popular tourist destination of Darjeeling.
Trinamool’s Sikkim unit president PT Lucksom, also a former deputy chief minister, and state general secretary Tshering Wangchuk Lepcha sent their resignations to party Rajya Sabha MP Derek O Brien and Lok Sabha MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay, sources said.
Their resignation letters were sent via the instant messaging app WhatsApp. Sikkim, a small state bordering Nepal and Bhutan, has a sizeable Nepali-speaking population ethnically related to Darjeeling’s majority community. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) on Monday expressed its “displeasure” with the Centre and questioned the absence of Darjeeling BJP MP SS Ahluwalia at the time of crisis.
“The role of alliance partner the BJP is very unfortunate and very disappointing. We had expected something positive from the Central government.
“We feel that we are being used as pawns by the Centre and the state,” Darjeeling MLA and senior GJM leader Amar Singh Rai said. Meanwhile, CM Mamata Banerjee on Monday appealed people to maintain peace instead of “playing with fire”.
Stranded tourists wait at a bus stand during the indefinite strike called by Gorkha Janamukti Morcha in Darjeeling on Monday.