POLITICS

Why GJM Chief Bimal Gurung Wants To Step Up The Demand For Gorkhaland

Fire on the mountains.

11/06/2017 8:50 AM IST | Updated 11/06/2017 9:55 AM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Bimal Gurung, supremo of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and Chief Executive of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, with GJM supporters at Kalimpong. (Photo By Indranil Bhoumik/Mint via Getty Images).

The Trinamool Congress government of West Bengal has given Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) chief Bimal Gurung the perfect excuse to revive the longstanding demand for Gorkhaland, a separate state for the hill region.

In an interview with The Indian Express, the fiery leader of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), a semi-autonomous body for the Darjeeling and Kalimpong hills formed in 2011, expressed his frustration with Banerjee and her government for stepping up the decades-long movement once again.

The dissatisfactions were brewing for a while. In the five years since the GTA was elected, only a handful of the 50 state administrative departments that were supposed to function under it has made the switch.

The last straw was the recent government's imposition of Bengali as a mandatory subject to be studied in schools across West Bengal, a decision that Banerjee later revised to make the language optional. The GJM saw this move as undermining their own language Nepali, which they want to be recognised by the state.

READ: Behind The Unrest In Darjeeling Lurks A Three-Way Political Contest

While relations between Gurung and Banerjee were cordial to start with, they have soured over the years. If her initial support was a refreshing contrast to the stubborn, and often brutal, resistance put up by the Left Front government that preceded her for over three decades, the holes in her promises soon became evident.

Little wonder Gurung forged a strategic alliance with the ruling BJP government at the Centre, which is at loggerheads with Banerjee on several counts, and campaigned for it in Assam during the assembly polls.

"I called her mother. But she did not take care of her child. We welcomed her in Darjeeling. But she tried to divide us by making separate boards for Lepchas and other communities," he told The Indian Express. "She wants to get political mileage. Now, whenever she will come to the hills, we will show her black flags. She is not welcome here anymore."

Rupak De Chowdhuri / Reuters

On Thursday, after violence erupted during protests by the GJM, the police lodged an FIR against Gurung. But to act on it and arrest him may end up opening the floodgates of a more severe revolt, with hundreds of his supporters willing to take to the streets and paralyse life in the hills for weeks on end.

Even though becoming the chief minister of the future Gorkhaland state, if it ever comes to pass, is a distant dream for Gurung at the moment, he still defiantly describes himself as "the chief minister of the hills". The Bengal government, especially the Trinamool Congress under Mamata Banerjee, should tread carefully on his terrain.

According to latest reports, Darjeeling hills may be headed for a month-long crisis with a call for a bandh for a protracted period. While government offices will not be allowed to work during this time and banks will open twice a week, educational institutions, transport and emergency services (water, conservancy, electricity and courts) will be exempt from the closure. The aim, as the report said, was not to damage tourism, but hit the state administration apparatus really hard.

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