Darjeeling is bracing for another shutdown as the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leadership has decided to hold a protest rally with the bodies of two persons allegedly killed during yesterday’s clashes, as the agitation turning more volatile with every passing day.
The GJM has claimed that two of their supporters were shot dead by police in Singmari. The police rejected the allegations of firing by its personnel, and said one person was killed during the clashes.
Gorkha Janmukti Morcha is a registered unrecognized political party which campaigns for the creation of a separate state Gorkhaland within India, out of districts in the north of West Bengal.The party was launched on 7 October 2007.
Bimal Gurung, a former Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) councillor of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, fell out with Subhas Ghisingh for “opposing the Sixth Schedule status for the hills and for his speeches against Subhash Ghisingh, the party president”.
Bimal Gurung founded GJM on 7 October 2007. Immediately upon formation of GJM, Bimal renewed the demand of the formation of a Gorkhaland State. The aims and the objectives of the new party was to “fight for the democratic right of the Indian Gorkhas living in India and to work unitedly for the creation of separate state for the people residing in the three Hill Sub-Division of Darjeeling, Siliguri Terai and Dooars areas.
The total area of the proposed state is 6450 km and comprises Banahat, Bhaktinagar, Bipara,Chalsa,Darjeeling,Jaigaon,Kalchini, Kalimpong,Kumargram, Kur seong, Madarihat, Malbazar, Mirik and Nagarkatta.
Unlike the 1980s, GJM has maintained that the struggle for Gorkhaland would be through non violence and non-cooperation. Bimal received mass support from the people of Darjeeling district, Dooars and other parts of India for his statehood demand.
But after the contentious issue of the broad-daylight murder of former ABGL chief Madan Tamang in May 2010, to which Gurung is believed to be heavily linked, many key GJM leaders such as Trilok Dewan, Amar Singh Rai, Amar Lama, Anmole Prasad and Palden Lama resigned from the party, leading to massive speculation about the veracity of Gurung’s statement denying his party’s links with Tamang’s murder.
“Gurung may be in hiding for now, but his political future has been secured for the short term,” said a bureaucrat not willing to be named.
Few, in fact, dare to speak aloud about Gurung publicly in the hills. The 53-year-old leader has over the years acquired a fearsome reputation. He once led the dreaded Gorkha Volunteer Corps, the militant wing of Ghising’s Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF).
The Corps is suspected to have been behind many killings and kidnappings that marked the Gorkhaland agitation in the 1980s
The latest turmoil, however, has overshadowed Gurung’s controversial past. With popular sentiment in the hills ranged against the state government, Gurung has once again emerged as the rallying point for local pride.
Still the elected chief executive officer of the autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, Gurung ,the son of a tea garden worker, has now threatened to carry on with the agitation for statehood until it is achieved. “We will not stop,” he is reported to have said before going underground.
Ironically, Gurung finds himself on a strong wicket while on the run. The imposition of Bengali,a misplaced fear since the government has since clarified that it is optional and not compulsory, has allowed him fresh political ammunition. If he is arrested, he will acquire a brighter halo.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh, in the Centre’s first official response to the Darjeeling turmoil, reminded protesters on Sunday that “nobody should resort to violence” and “every issue can be resolved through mutual dialogue”.
The BJP minister’s series of tweets, which came days after Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters hurled bombs 200m from the venue of a Bengal cabinet meet in Darjeeling, followed a half-hour conversation with Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Sunday morning.
Banerjee has already latched on to this pan-Bengal sentiment, with her “won’t allow division of Bengal as long as I am alive” statement on Saturday.
But GJM party’s Darjeeling MLA, Amar Singh Rai, said: “I see no reason for us to enter into any dialogue only with the state government. We will enter into a dialogue only with the Centre on a single-point agenda — a separate state of Gorkhaland.”
The talks scheduled for Monday involving the Union Home Ministry, the West Bengal government and representatives of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) were on Sunday indefinitely postponed, even as the death of three agitators allegedly in police firing the previous day intensified protests in Darjeeling.
According to Home Ministry sources, the tripartite talks were put off on the request of the West Bengal government.
Mr. Singh appealed to the people living in Darjeeling and nearby areas to remain calm and peaceful, the statement said. In his appeal, he said that nobody should resort to violence. “In a democracy like India resorting to violence would never help in finding a solution. Every issue can be resolved through mutual dialogue,” he was quoted as saying in the statement.
Amid the fresh agitation for Gorkhaland in the Darjeeling hills, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today accused the Modi government of encouraging the stir and claimed there was a “deep-rooted conspiracy” behind it.
Mamata, however, did not directly blame the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP for the violent agitation, which she claimed was supported by insurgent groups of the northeast and some foreign countries. Her remarks drew a derisive response from BJP chief Amit Shah, who said she saw “conspiracy in everything”.
“Mamata sees conspiracy in everything. She had made similar allegations against the Indian Army as well,” BJP chief Amit Shah responded when asked about Ms Banerjee dubbing the ongoing agitation in Darjeeling “a deep-rooted conspiracy”.
Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which controls the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) is an ally of BJP whose SS Ahluwalia represents Darjeeling in the Lok Sabha.
When asked about Mr Ahluwalia backing the agitation and whether BJP supported it, Mr Shah said, “It is true that we are in favour of small states. Once we decide something about it, we will announce it.” He, however, did not say if the party wanted a separate state of Gorkhaland carved out of West Bengal.
Ms Banerjee said the kind of “hooliganism and vandalism,” being seen during the unrest in the hills, can only be done if there is a “terrorist brain” behind it, and the Centre should extend full help to the state to contain it.
“What is happening today is a deep-rooted conspiracy. So many bombs and arms cannot be gathered in a day. These have been gathered for a long time.
“From where are they (GJM) are getting their support? Their advantage is it (Darjeeling) is a hill area and there are borders with other states and international borders.
“They are using the national flag for vandalism, which they cannot do. I will request the Central government not to encourage them to behave like this. If anything happens to any foreigner (tourist) it will bring bad name to the country,” Ms Banerjee said.
“Only a terrorist and not a common man can do this. We have clues that this has terrorist connections. They (GJM) have connections with underground insurgent groups of the northeast .I request them (insurgent groups) not to extend any support to the GJM,” Ms Banerjee told reporters in Kolkata.
GJM general secretary Roshan Giri, who was present in New Delhi, told sources, “The present situation in the hills is created by the state government. They want to suppress us by using huge police force.” He said the Centre and the state government should look into the matter and try to resolve it.
Giri, along with BJP MP from Darjeeling S S Ahluwalia, met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh seeking for Centre’s intervention in restoring peace in the hills and also look at the foul play by the state government’s attempt to make Bengali teaching compulsory in schools.
Talking to reporters after meeting the Union Home Minister, Giri said, “We have apprised the home minister of the prevailing situation in Darjeeling and Mamata Banerjee government’s attempts to impose Bengali in schools in Darjeeling. We have urged him for immediate central intervention to bring back peace there.”
In an early morning raid last week at the GJM party office in Patlebas, near the party Gurung’s house, police recovered sophisticated cross-bows, a huge cache of arrows, large number of crackers, one country-made pistol, Khukris, axes and cash. Following the raid, GJM Central Committee announced an indefinite strike in the hills.
Speaking about the raids conducted by the police in the premises connected to Bimal Gurung, Giri said, “We strongly condemn the raids at our offices in Darjeeling. Whatever the police found in our offices were planted by police themselves.”
Speaking further he said, “What have they found? Khukri is part of our tradition. What is the harm in keeping it? Bows and arrows are traditional weapons. They were meant for students for archery competition.”
Giri said Bengali and Nepali, the language spoken in Darjeeling, are in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution and hence equal respect should be shown to both.
While Speaking at a public meeting on June 5 in Mirik, chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced the decision of the special audit in the finances of GTA, the semi-autonomous body that looks into the affairs of the hills.
The Mamata Banerjee government mounted further pressure on Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president and Gorkhaland Territorial Administration CEO Bimal Gurung by adding six more officers to the existing team of six-member special audit team probing financial misconduct in GTA.
The 12-member team will scrutinise finances of the semi-autonomous body since it was set up in 2012. According to state secretariat sources, the finance department will file police complaint is they could spot irregularities.
Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supremo Bimal Gurung had said that the agitation in Darjeeling hills will not stop until and unless a separate Gorkhaland in achieved and warned the TMC not to play with fire.
“We are not in favour of violent agitation or shutdown. But if the TMC wants to play with fire then they will regret it. Our agitation will be a democratic one and it will not stop until and unless Gorkhaland is achieved,” Gurung said.
He alleged that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was trying to practice “divide and rule” politics in the hills to establish political hegemony.
“The state government is trying to undermine the authority of the GTA. Who gave the state government the right to arbitrarily announce audit into GTA accounts? TMC is violating the GTA pact. It wants to establish political supremacy in the hills. But they will fail.
Fuming about the special audit into the accounts of the GTA, Gurung called it “an infringement of the rights of the GTA”. “Why is the CM not conducting an audit into the accounts of her own party (TMC) leaders who have looted public money in Saradha and Narada scam.”
GJM chief Bimal Gurung had challenged Banerjee to stop the agitation in the hills and said that it was his writ that “runs in the hill”. He also projected himself as the “chief minister of the hills”.
The police, who have been on high alert after yesterday’s violence and arson, conducted route marches with the Army in several parts of the hills.
Police pickets and barricades were placed in front of the government and GTA offices, and various entry-exit points of the hills. Several woman police personnel have also been deployed.
Except for medicine stores, all others shops and hotels remained closed in Darjeeling.