THE HILLS ARE ALIVE

The bi­fur­ca­tion of J&K gives fresh en­ergy to the Gorkha­land ag­i­ta­tion

India Today - - STATES - By Romita Datta

The hill dis­tricts of West Ben­gal are again in fer­ment af­ter news came in about the ‘di­lu­tion’ of Ar­ti­cle 370 and Jammu-Kash­mir and Ladakh be­com­ing Union Ter­ri­to­ries (UTs). The Gorkha Jan­mukti Mor­cha (GJM), cur­rently the top dog in the hills, and the rebel fac­tion of the party led by Bi­nay Ta­mang, have cranked up the de­mand for Gorkha­land (carved out of Dar­jeel­ing, Kalimpong and parts of the plains of Terai and Dooars in West Ben­gal). They want a sep­a­rate state or UT sta­tus for the re­gion.

‘Gorkha pride’ was the top con­cern of all po­lit­i­cal par­ties here, in­clud­ing the rul­ing Tri­namool Congress, prior to the 2019 gen­eral

elec­tion. The BJP’s elec­tion man­i­festo even said the party was “com­mit­ted to work­ing to­wards find­ing a per­ma­nent po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to the is­sue”.

The GJM, along with other hill par­ties like the Gorkha Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front (GNLF) and the Com­mu­nist Party of Revo­lu­tion­ary Marx­ists (CPRM), had sent a del­e­ga­tion a fort­night ago to meet Union MoS for home Nityananda Rai to dis­cuss the is­sue. The new de­vel­op­ments in J&K have added im­pe­tus to the de­mands. “We want UT sta­tus with a leg­isla­tive assem­bly in case state­hood can­not be granted,” says GJM gen­eral sec­re­tary Roshan Giri, cur­rently an ‘ab­scon­der’ along with party pres­i­dent Bi­mal Gu­rung, fol­low­ing the look­out no­tices slapped against them by the West Ben­gal gov­ern­ment.

BJP MP Raju S. Bista, an en­tre­pre­neur from Ma­nipur with RSS links, has been hand­picked by Gu­rung to deal with the is­sue. “We want a tri­par­tite meet­ing at the ear­li­est to hon­our the sen­ti­ments of the Gorkha peo­ple. We are be­ing un­nec­es­sar­ily ha­rassed by the TMC,” says Bista. He will be meet­ing Union home min­is­ter Amit Shah soon.

Bista has al­ready re­minded the Lok Sabha of the need for a “per­ma­nent so­lu­tion”. The BJP has had the sup­port of the hill peo­ple (80 per cent are Gorkhas) for three terms now, be­gin­ning 2009, by dan­gling the car­rot of a sep­a­rate state. But noth­ing has hap­pened so far. Even af­ter the 104-day strike in the hills in June 2017, there was no firm com­mit­ment from the Cen­tre. Then BJP MP from Dar­jeel­ing, S.S. Ah­luwalia, did not even visit his con­stituency dur­ing the pe­riod.

Even af­ter the bit­ter ex­pe­ri­ence, the GJM is hope­ful the BJP at the Cen­tre will come through. “We have no choice. We are fight­ing a state gov­ern­ment (TMC) which is slap­ping false cases against our work­ers and lead­ers. We can­not fight the TMC with­out the BJP’s help,” says a GJM leader who re­fused to be iden­ti­fied. How­ever, un­like Ah­luwalia, Bista is their own man, a son of the soil and, more im­por­tantly, has Gu­rung’s back­ing. Bista has man­aged to con­vince the GJM lead­ers not to pick up the gun again. The 2017 ag­i­ta­tion, which paral­ysed life for more than three months, did not go down well with the peo­ple.

The BJP is in a spot as it also has to counter the TMC cam­paign in the rest of Ben­gal that the saf­fron party is out to break up the state. If the charge gets trac­tion, it could de­rail the BJP’s plans to take Ben­gal in the 2021 assem­bly elec­tion. State pres­i­dent Dilip Ghosh has gone on record say­ing the BJP has not given any com­mit­ment on ‘Gorkha­land’. Quick to pin Ghosh down, Ben­gal cab­i­net min­is­ter Goutam Deb says, “The BJP and GJM can­not keep talk­ing in two voices. They should make their stand clear.”

Sources say the BJP has asked Bista to fo­cus on the “per­ma­nent po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion” bit and keep the sep­a­ratist el­e­ment un­der wraps till they can come up with a so­lu­tion.

SAN­JAY SAH/ GETTY IMAGES

STATE IN­TENT File photo of the 2017 GJM protests

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