Q&A: BIMAL GURUNG
On the run to escape prosecution by Mamata Banerjee’s government, deposed Gorkha Territorial Authority (GTA) chief BIMAL GURUNG says he is biding his time till he can renew the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) agitation for Gorkhaland. In an exclusive interview from his hideout, he spoke to ROMITA DATTA about his plans. Excerpts:
Q. You are in hiding and Binay Tamang has taken control of the GJM and the GTA...
A. Tamang isn’t even in control of his own life and views. He’s a puppet whose strings are being pulled from Kolkata. I am not in hiding, but merely keeping a low profile until the tripartite talks promised by the Centre. The people are with me, even the state intelligence reports say ‘70 per cent’ support me.
Q. There’s another Lok Sabha election around the corner... A. I have never done politics to be in power. The GJM was formed to fulfil the dreams of our people and I remain committed to that. Let the talks begin and create an atmosphere
for democracy to return to the hills.
Q. There is talk that you could float a new party, or do you claim to be the real GJM?
A. I don’t claim anything. Barring the few propped up by Kolkata, everyone knows I represent the GJM. It’s too early to say who we will support. Right now, we are with the BJP.
Q. What are your conditions for supporting the BJP?
A. We haven’t decided whether we will contest the elections alone or in an alliance. Our central committee will decide that. As for me, I am here so that the region’s poor children—be it Gorkha, Adivasi, Rajbongshi, Bengali, Bihari or any other community—don’t suffer the same fate as when I was young.
Q. Is there a way to broker peace with the state government? A. We were never at war with the West Bengal government. We are two political entities with different opinions on Gorkhaland. Dialogue is important in politics. We are ready
for tripartite talks with the Centre and the state government. It is the latter that has declined talks.
Q. Mamata has made peace with Sikkim. Have you lost a friend in chief minister P.K. Chamling? A. Mamata Banerjee may be friends with Chamling, but the people of Sikkim and Darjeeling are a family. Sikkim has always supported us in times of need.
Q. The state accuses you of misappropriating GTA funds...
A. They conducted three audits but found nothing. We haven’t misused a single rupee of whatever little was granted to us. I want the CAG to do a special audit. I’m sure they will find misappropriation of funds since the board of administrators was formed, not before that.
Q. But the hills are now peaceful... A. The hill people have always strived for peace. The violence was unleashed by various agencies of the West Bengal government. Even today, thousands, fearing arrest, haven’t been able to return to their homes. This is not peace. This is like the ‘silence of the lambs’. It’s like the Emergency. People are being arrested for comments on Facebook. The Darjeeling region sits in the cross-section of four countries. Rohingya refugees and illegal migrants from Bangladesh are being settled here. The state is playing with fire, even the central government is aware of it.
Q. Have you had any feelers from the Trinamool Congress? A. (laughs) There has been no attempt by the TMC government so far to scale down tensions. The TMC is just a political party that may or may not be there tomorrow, just like the CPI(M), which unleashed terror in 1986. What I’m trying to say is, friendships can happen only if all of us respect each other’s values.
WAIT AND WATCH GJM leader Bimal Gurung in a file photo from 2017