Trouble seems to be brewing in the hills of Bengal again. Pro-Gorkhaland units in Darjeeling have indicated that a fresh movement will be launched to press for separate statehood ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) and the Hamro Party had called for a shutdown in the Hills on Thursday (February 23) to protest against a motion passed in the West Bengal Assembly opposing any attempts to divide the state, but withdrew it in view of the Class-X board exams.
Bigger movement warning
Binay Tamang, who recently quit Trinamool Congress (TMC) to join hands with his former mentor, GJM supremo Bimal Gurung, claimed this time, the agitation will not bow out under any pressure. “In the coming months, we will launch mass movements, which will only stop once we achieve Gorkhaland. This time, there won’t be any compromise or bowing out under pressure. It will be a fight to establish the identities of Gorkhas,” Tamang told PTI.
The development comes days after the GJM walked out of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) agreement signed in 2011, claiming that the aspirations of the people of Darjeeling were not fulfilled.
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The call for mass agitation comes six years after the 2017 stir for a separate state during which the Hills witnessed a 104-day-long shutdown.
“We oppose the way the motion was passed, without caring for the ambitions of the people of the Hills. The shutdown was called off due to exams. But this is just the beginning of bigger mass movements in the days to come. We have already started a hunger strike,” Hamro Party chief Ajoy Edwards told PTI.
Political realignment in Darjeeling
Darjeeling has witnessed several agitations over the years, with political parties promising people a separate Gorkhaland state and the implementation of the Sixth Schedule, which grants autonomy to the tribal-inhabited region.
In the past six years, politics in the Hills has gone through many permutations and combinations, with the GJM, which once used to call the shots in the area, now a much weakened entity. But a new political realignment has taken shape in Darjeeling in recent months, with Edwards, Gurung, and Tamang joining hands to renew the demand for Gorkhaland.
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The three prominent leaders of the region were forced to bury their differences in the wake of Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM) chief and GTA chairman Anit Thapa emerging as the numero-uno political force in Darjeeling, with the support of the TMC government. Thapa’s BGPM, too, had passed a unanimous resolution in the first GTA meeting, supporting the demand for Gorkhaland.
Gurung, who resurfaced in Kolkata in October 2020 after being in hiding since the 2017 statehood agitation, had pledged support to the TMC, quitting the NDA. The GJM supremo has also recently made statements supporting the BJP’s promise of a “permanent political solution” to the problems plaguing the Hills.
According to leaders in GJM and Hamro Party, all other political players were marginalised in the Hills after the victory of the BGPM in the GTA polls. “Even the Darjeeling Municipality, which the Hamro Party won, was taken over by Thapa after engineering a defection of some of its elected members. The TMC and BGPM have compelled all other forces to come together,” a senior GJM leader, who did not wish to be named, said.
Echoing him, Edwards said, “In politics, you need to take decisions according to evolving situations. I have changed my stand going by the present political situation in the Hills, where there is no space for democratic activities. Secondly, the BJP had promised a permanent political solution in 2009, but nothing moved forward. We hope it will keep its promise ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.”
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The BJP, meanwhile, has blamed the TMC for trying to disturb the peaceful atmosphere of Darjeeling. “There was no need to bring this motion. They did that only to serve their political interests in North Bengal ahead of the rural polls. The TMC has failed to address the issues of the people of the Hills,” BJP national vice-president Dilip Ghosh said.
The ruling TMC has dubbed the comments as a ploy by the “BJP and its allies to divide the state”.
Political observers, however, feel the calls for renewed agitation is an attempt by the pro-Gorkhaland parties to test the water and gauge their support base.
“The GJM does not enjoy the clout it once did in the Hills. The Hamro Party is also not a major player. It is too early to say whether this is the beginning of a bigger movement,” said Munish Tamang, a political analyst and national president of the Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh.
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Although the demand for separating the region from West Bengal is over a century old, the Gorkhaland statehood movement was ignited by Gorkha National Liberation Front leader Subhash Ghisingh in 1986.
A violent stir claimed hundreds of lives and culminated in 1988 with the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, which governed the region with a certain degree of autonomy till 2011. The GTA was formed in 2012 following a tripartite agreement among the state, the Centre, and the GJM.
(With agency inputs)