UNREST IN ‘GORKHALAND’
The hill districts are again on a collision course with Mamata’s regime
The demand for a separate Gorkhaland, which encompasses the hill districts of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong and parts of Terai and Dooars in the plains, is a recurring chant by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), with president Bimal Gurung cranking it up whenever the going gets a bit tough for him.
Placated for a while (as his mentor and Gorkha National League Front chief Subhash Ghising was in 2005) with the creation of a semi-autonomous council—the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA)—in July 2011 after the Trinamool Congress came to power in the state, Gurung is on the warpath again. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s move to have the GTA accounts audited is the most recent provocation.
The state government had released Rs 3,000 crore to the GTA at the time of its inception in 2011, but the organisation has maintained no accounts of expenditure or bothered with furnishing utilisation certificates. Mamata has been aware of the large-scale financial irregularities by GTA members since 2013-14, but her sudden decision to put the audit team on their heels is being seen as a manoeuvre to isolate Gurung.
The CM views Gurung as an adversary because it is with his support that the BJP has been winning the Darjeeling
Lok Sabha seat since 2009 (the GJM’s support is based on the BJP’s commitment to the creation of Gorkhaland as a separate state).
The recently concluded municipality polls in the hills have once again gone in favour of the GJM, which won three—Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong—out of the four municipalities, giving Gurung all the more reason to flex his muscles. Smarting from the GTA audit order, he found his chance to hit back when Mamata announced the introduction of Bengali in school curriculums in the hills. Though it is still optional, it fitted well into Gurung’s plans in stoking the fires among the Nepali-speaking Gorkhas.
On June 8, as Mamata was presiding over her first cabinet meeting in the hills at the Raj Bhavan in Darjeeling, thousands of GJM supporters came out onto the streets. They pelted stones and crude bombs, set fire to police jeeps and state buses, stopping dangerously close to holding the CM and her cabinet hostage.
Nearly 10,000 holidayers were stranded in the city, forcing the CM to requisition the army
MAMATA’S MOVE TO HAVE THE GTA ACCOUNTS AUDITED IS THE MOST RECENT PROVOCATION
to bring the situation under control. Typically, though, Mamata herself opted to stay in Darjeeling to reassure the stranded tourists.
But the agitation continued. Gurung gave a call for non-cooperation with the government from June 12. However, with an eye on local livelihoods, the transport and hotel industries were exempted alongside schools and emergency services. “The morcha has a single-point programme, Gorkhaland for the Gorkhas,” says Roshan Giri, GJM general secretary.
In a telling move, Gurung has written to Union home minister Rajnath Singh, apprising him of the TMC government’s high-handedness. The word in Darjeeling is that Delhi will push for tripartite negotiations, but Mamata has already rejected the possibility. She is instead considering booking the GJM leaders for vandalising public property and arson while also using the GTA audit to expose the corruption of Gurung and other Gorkha leaders. Clearly, the battle lines are being drawn.
HOLIDAY HELL The army was out in Darjeeling as the GJM protests turned violent