Showing posts with label Mamata Banerjee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mamata Banerjee. Show all posts

Mamata Banerjee's first visits Darjeeling hills after 106 days Strike

8:53 PM
Mamata Banerjee in Darjeeling: West Bengal CM warns Centre not to assist anyone 'bent on sundering region'

Making a strong pitch in Darjeeling for peace in the Hills, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee urged the Centre on Tuesday “not to assist anyone” bent on sundering the region “into tiny bits” for minor electoral gain.

“I want friendship... but won’t allow Darjeeling (the Hills) to be reduced to bits”, Mamata stated, obliquely cautioning Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leader Bimal Gurung, who enjoys the support of the BJP. Turning to another section of the Hill leadership, she added:  “We have a duty to see that there should be no more violence”.

Banerjee’s flak was directed at both the Centre and Gurung, the latter being the chief architect of the demand for a separate state and against whom her administration slapped charges in connection with his alleged role in the violence in the region during last year’s June-September shutdown in support of Gorkhaland. It is with his support that the BJP hopes to retain the Darjeeling seat in the next parliamentary elections.

Only two days ago the Hills were agog over an allegation by the police that Gurung had been preparing for insurgency to attain statehood and overseeing a clandestine armed training camp only a few kilometres from Darjeeling town. The recovery of a large cache of arms might have been viewed as a major breakthrough by security intelligence, but it also underlined the volatility in the local political environment despite the overall calm.

Inaugurating the two-day Hill Business Summit — the much-vaunted, first-ever meet in the hills of industrialists with the purpose of exploring investment opportunities in the region — Mamata, in an unequivocal message to the local political leadership and the people of the region, said: “You give us peace, we (her government) will give you prosperity. This is our commitment... For this somebody has to bell the cat; let me bell the cat”. She also assured an initial investment of Rs 100 crore from her government for “promotional development” in Darjeeling and the rest of the north Bengal.

Addressing the Hill leaders on the dais, some of whom have contradicting viewpoints on certain political issues, Mamata said: “Please see that there should not be any more violence... Some political leader can gain (by indulging in it) but the Darjeeling people will not gain”. If they had any “problem” she was open to “discussions”, she added. And, in a bid to rebuff her detractors, she said she would not be coming “to seek votes”.

This followed an assurance from Binay Tamang, handpicked by her as chairman of the board of administrators for the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) that “Darjeeling and Kalimpong (districts) will be a strike-free zone and there will be no political disturbances in the Hills anymore”. It had suffered enough in the past, Tamang pointed out.

Underscoring the need to diversify the Hill economy beyond its main bulwark, tea and tourism, Mamata said that the youth of the region needed greater “employment opportunities” which can only come with more industries. “I believe investment is ready but first we need to safeguard peace”, Mamata asserted.

There can be little doubt that the summit is as much an exercise to draw much-needed investment to bolster the Hill economy and an assertion of the control the ruling political dispensation — purportedly propped up by the state government — enjoys in a region where anxieties over its political future refuse to go away. The concerns linger despite the return of the usual signs of normality after months of unrest last year.  The fractious Hill political leadership does not help matters.

It is in such a situation that the optics of holding the conclave — at a time when there appears to be a re-structuring of the local political space — is hard to miss, no matter what might be the future business-related returns. Clearly, the imagery is designed to allay security concerns among prospective investors and to send the message that an atmosphere congenial to business has been restored in the Hills.

It bears recalling that the summit was initially scheduled for the tail end of last year in the course of an on-going tourism festival following the realisation that not only would it not be able to draw a sufficient number of prospective investors, but also, and more importantly, the security situation was not adequately amenable to risk a visit by Mamata.  The smouldering fires her visit stoked in June 2017 might have died down but, even then, a chance could not be taken. So the much-hyped industrialists’ meet had to wait. Until now.

The question confronting industrialists who might be considering setting their sights on the Hills is this: How stable is the political situation in a region whose local economy has been at the receiving end because of intermittent strikes? (some of which are prolonged and punctuated by bouts of violence). Particularly so since the agitation to press for a separate state began in the mid-1980s. Often, state authorities, who view the movement largely through the security prism, have had to resort to robust methods to crackdown on the agitators; but the demand simmers, and the threat of disruptions refuses to go away.

[Via: Firstpost]

IN THE LAND OF RAMKRISHNA AND VIVEKANANDA – Bimal Gurung is an “Asur”

10:05 AM

Writes Upendra

Bengal, once one of the leading lights of India – where thinkers, philosophers, scholars, reformers and revolutionaries of all hue and colour found acceptance and thrived. The land of Raja Rammohan Roy, Ramkrishna Parmahansa, Swamy Vivekananda, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, Amartya Sen; the land of which it was once said, “what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow.’

Today, I honestly shudder to think, what if, our nation starts to think like Bengal tomorrow? I fervently hope, our nation doesn’t.
 
The land of revolutionaries like Charu Mazumdar today arrests people over inane Facebook posts that TMC cadres find offensive, the land of Raja Rammohan Roy arrests Professors for sharing a cartoon, the land of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore shuts down a Nepali language TV channel because of the comments made by its viewers online, the land of Netaji hounds out everyone who are fighting for their rights as enshrined in the constitution of our nation, the land of Amartya Sen files cases against journalists for writing the truth, and most tragic of all, the land of Swami Vivekananda which allows for such distortions of a festival – Durga Puja -  so sacred and dear to us all, despite our religious affiliations.

In Bengal today, a rape in the heart of Kolkata city is discarded as ‘sajaano ghotona – staged event’, the Chief Minister offers ‘picchone baas – bamboo in the backside’ to her detractors, a mentally ill woman Otera Bibi is paraded nude, slapped and kicked, and lynched by the “intellectual” public to death, and 24X7 news channels help spew lies and fabricated truths.

I shudder to think, what will become of India and her people – if we all start thinking like Bengal today?

The level of political discourse has fallen so low in Bengal, that if Kolkata 24X7 portal is to be believed, today a Transport Minister designs a Durga Puja pandal showing TMC Chief Mamata Banerjee as Maa Durga, and the leader of Gorkhaland movement Bimal Gurung as a Demon.

I don’t honestly mind how you portray Bimal Gurung, but Mamata is no Durga, and I take offense to any such portrayal.

Imagine if someone portrayed Mamata as a Demon, how would the powers that be, in Bengal react? Would they tolerate any such portrayal?

But, it’s ok… because the one being portrayed as a Demon is despised and hated by everyone in Bengal – for he dared to lead a movement seeking a separate state of Gorkhaland. This does make him a fair game and the people he represents to be Demonized. TMC stalwarts must take pride in how well they have managed to promote ‘Freedom of Expression’ in Bengal.

A close friend of mine from Kolkata asked me recently, if I rued the leader we had?

I said “Yes ! I wished we had a different Chief Minister.”

Via The DC

Mamata Banerjee's Greter Bangla Conspiracy

7:08 PM

I am a Gorkha and I am not a terrorist...

Mamta Banerjee in her press conference today almost said that GJM is a terrorist outfit. Her evidences? She said she has intelligence report that underground outfits from North east are in contact with Bimal Gurung. Even some countries are helping Bimal Gurung. Suppose I say Mamta Banerjee is conspiring for Greater Bangla with the areas of Bangladesh and Bengal? She has been trying very very hard to colonize Bengal and her last strategy of imposing Bengali as a compulsory language in entire Bengal. Her strategy has been foiled completely by the current agitation for Gorkhaland. She started with division of Gorkha community with the formation of various caste based development boards. Secondly she allured some political outfits like JAP, GNLF. She was successful to some extent in dividing the mass. That is why the vote percentage of TMC in the hills improved. She was convinced that she will be able to grab the hill mass under her tentacles. Formation of Mirik Municipality board with the help of GNLF fuelled her conviction. So she fired the language bomb. The language bomb boomeranged.

During her cabinet meeting at Darjeeling when a small violence erupted she in haste called the Army. Was there a need to call the army? The demand of GJM was simple: pass the resolution in cabinet that Bengali Language is not compulsory. When she could pass so many developmental schemes for GTA without the consent of the GTA chief why didn’t she pass the simple resolution on language imposition? She has something dirty in her mind.

She failed. From today’s 15 Development Board chairpersons’ meeting and press conference she is hell bent to prove GJM as a terrorist outfit. But let me tell you madam we are Gorkhas and Gorkhas are not terrorist. On one hand she says there was intelligence failure and on the other hand she alleges that plan was hatched to hurt her ministers. She labels farmer’s tools, children’s archery tools as arms. Her disinformation strategy has started. With the Lepcha board chairperson she formed a peace committee. What a joke. Does she not know all the board members are Gorkhas and they too will die for Gorkhaland. They attended the meeting because you are giving them fund. Today you avoided the Gorkhaland question. Did you ask them what do they want? Gorkhaland or Development board?

GJM’s agitation has been transformed into a mass movement. Every citizen
irrespective of their caste, creed, religion, profession are supporting the cause. It is not Bimal Gurung’s programme but it is our issue. At this juncture what could be the rational steps our leadership can take? Let me suggest few:

Do not allow any actors to dismantle the all party forum. This is the platform which will make Gorkhaland a reality. Leave aside the egos. Bring the actionable strategy on the table.

Continue with the agitation no matter what form it takes and how far it goes.
Do not comply with the shallow offer of centre and state.

Participate in the meetings with centre and state if Gorkhaland is the ONLY agenda.
Now onwards message should be clear and speak in one voice. No GJM or GNLF or JAP etc

Strengthen media cell. Appoint skilled spokesperson.

During freedom struggle there was Gandhi and also Bose, there was table conferences and violence too, there was Dandi March and bomb too. Learn from the history.

Two pronged strategy should be in place. Delhi centric and Hill centric. Delhi centric strategy needs lobbyists, intellectuals, media experts, networkers. Involve people who can influence the ruling government, lobby with the opposition, market the cause to capitalists. Hill centric strategy needs people who can fuel the movement, give momentum to agitation, encourage mass, resist police and CRPF and state’s high handedness.

Get ready to counter the propaganda of Mamta that the agitation is a terror act. She will certainly make Darjeeling a battle ground like Kashmir.

Lastly, everything has its own time – time to sleep and time to awake, time to laugh and time to cry, time to fight and time to flight. Now is the time to fight and fight till GORKHALAND happens. Till today we have been fighting for the cause of others, now is the time to fight for our own cause. Dear Mamta didi we are Gorkhas and we are not terrorist. We will not help you to make your greater Bangla conspiracy a success.

Jai Gorkha, Jai Gorkhaland

Turning Darjeeling to Syria, Not Switzerland

10:01 AM

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Unprecedented Brutality - Turning Darjeeling to Syria, Not Switzerland

One of our readers who belongs to the Gorkha Marwari community writes...

"With the Video I saw today in regards to protest of the people and the lathi charge ordered by the SP, it clearly shows what the state government has planned for us.

I was shocked the way the lathi charge was done.

People were protesting in a non - violent manner and when they were asked to go back they were doing so. What was the need of the SP to order the lathi Charge. Its clearly a big misuse of power. Is this why the Chief Minister carried out successive transfers ? Is this the reason why this SP was brought ? To beat the people and suppress our Fundamental Rights.

She recently said that her presence has brought Peace in The Hills.

What Kind of a Peace is this ?

She always said i will turn Darjeeling into Switzerland but i feel she is turning it into Syria.

I request everybody to hold your nerve and request the Administration not to misuse its power.

Such kind of Brutality is very dangerous in our democratic society.

Jai Mahakal Baba
Jai Hind
Jai Gorkha
Jai Gorkhaland"

[Pic via: ANI]

Via TheDC

Lathi-charge Police Sends a Message - 'Behave or We Will Make You'

9:28 AM

SHOCK and AWE: In Lathi-charge Police Sends a Message - 'Behave or We Will Make You'

The Mamata Banerjee government is focusing for the time being on two components in Darjeeling: collate actionable intelligence on the Gorkha Janmutki Morcha and send a message that law-keepers will not hesitate to use force to nip any attempt to disrupt peace in the hills.

The tactical objective is to stay ahead of the Morcha curve at any point of time and act with resolve whenever there is a need, said a senior police officer.

The rapid response was on display today at Chowk Bazaar, the commercial hub of Darjeeling, when a lathi-charge was launched to disperse protesters and a stone flew at the counter-insurgency force from a rooftop.

Led by officers deputed from Calcutta, a large number of police personnel swooped down and sanitised the area, going from bylane to bylane and chasing anyone spotted on rooftops. Rarely have the police responded in such a manner on a strike day in the hills.

Along with the show of force, the security establishment is working on three elements, the officer said.

First, draw up an area report about the pockets where the Morcha remains a formidable force.

Second, keep tabs on key Morcha foot soldiers who play a role in executing their leader Bimal Gurung's plans.

Third, identify and ring-fence the possible targets where Morcha could strike to assert its presence.

On Monday, when most officers were busy with the deployment of the force outside government establishments, three senior officers visited Patlavas, the village where Gurung's house is located.

The house, around 4km from the Morcha's central party office on Lebong Cart Road in Darjeeling town, was locked.

While the police have details of the Morcha leadership, a drive is now on to gather as much information as possible on the second rung, including some councillors of the Darjeeling municipality.

A section of police officers feel these leaders hold considerable sway in their wards and can spring surprise attacks on different buildings.

"A list of possible target buildings that the Morcha would want to strike to send a strong message is being prepared," said a deputy superintendent of police in Darjeeling.

Central forces - six companies of the CRPF are deployed here - are working in close coordination with the state agencies. Senior officers of the central force, led by commandant Sunil Kumar Savita, have reportedly had several rounds of meetings with Darjeeling SP Akhilesh Chaturvedi.

"We are helping the state force here with every possible way," said Usha Kiran Kandulana, DIG (operations) of the CRPF, in Darjeeling.

The hill town today witnessed the display of force as a team of commandants from the state's counter-insurgency force took over Chowk Bazaar that wore a deserted look in the wake of a strike call by tea unions that was supported by the Morcha.

Around 11am, a rally demanding Gorkhaland had just ended and some women supporters were sitting on the main road with flags. When it appeared that more protesters may converge on the spot, the force wielded the baton to disperse the crowd.

Someone threw a stone from the top of a building. For the next hour, officers went about sanitising the area.

Jawed Shamim and S.N. Gupta, two officers who have been specially brought in, arrived with a huge force and started chasing anyone who could be spotted atop buildings.

From Chowk Bazaar, the force led by Shamim and Gupta reached Singmari, which has one of the most prominent Morcha offices in Darjeeling, and moved away the supporters who had gathered. Women RAF commandants were placed in front of a row of women Morcha supporters.

"This is the first time in a decade when the police reached Singmari on a day when the Morcha is holding a strike in Darjeeling," said Raj Sherpa, a resident.

[Via: Telegraph]

100 Years and Still Raging: The Battle For Gorkhaland

8:50 PM

Kolkata: Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) chief Bimal Gurung thumped his chest as he stood amidst his supporters and said Darjeeling was on the boil because of their fight for a homeland, a separate Gorkhaland. “There is no going back now,” he roared.

Gurung’s statement, however, has taken the Hills back in time. The fight for Gorkhaland is one of the longest standing demands for a separate state that India has seen. Gorkhas living in West Bengal demand a state of their own on the basis of language, social and cultural ethnicity. Gurung’s call for an indefinite bandh, starting Monday, has roots in chief minister Mamata Banerjee making Bangla compulsory in schools across the state.

Gurung’s fight has put the spotlight on the crisis in Gorkhaland, which is almost 100 years old. News18 takes a look at the history of the fight:

Gorkhaland consists of Nepali-speaking people from Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Kurseong and many other hill districts. Around 1780, the Gorkhas captured the entire region from Teesta to Sutlej, including Darjeeling, Siliguri, Shimla, Nainital, Garhwal Hills and Kumaon. After 35 years of rule, Gorkhas lost the Anglo-Nepal War in 1816 and surrendered the territory to the British.

1907-1934: The issue of a separate state was first raised in 1907, when Hillmen’s Association of Darjeeling wrote to the Morley-Minto Reforms Committee, demanding a separate administrative setup. Right until 1934, several requests were made, but in vain.

1947-1952: The undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) too demanded a separate Gorkhasthan, comprising of Sikkim, Nepal and Darjeeling. The Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL) too joined the movement, demanding the Hills be separated from Bengal.

1986-88: In 1986, the movement by ABGL turned violent after Subhash Ghising, under the banner of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), took to the streets. The Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) was formed in 1988, under which limited powers were given to Ghisingh’s GNLF, only in Darjeeling district.

2007-10: Bimal Gurung, once considered close to Ghisingh, launched his own party GJM. Touted as the ‘Next Robinhood’, he slowly gathered support for a separate Gorkhaland. In 2010, ABGL’s Madan Tamang, who had openly criticized Gurung for playing politics, was hacked to death in public. Nicole Tamang, a member of GJM, was arrested for the murder.

2011-13: Mamata came to power, and replaced DGHC with Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and made Gurung its chief. Both parties preferred to not attack each other. But soon after Telangana was formed in 2013, the demand for Gorkhaland intensified. Gurung resigned from GTA.

June 2017: GJM, an ally of the BJP, has called an indefinite shutdown of state government and Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) offices, but kept educational institutions, transport services and hotels out of its purview. The GJM, which heads the GTA, has also issued a diktat to banks to open only twice a week. The Trinamool Congress government has ordered all its employees and those of the institutions receiving grants-in-aid from it to attend office on all days, warning that absence from duty will be considered a break in service.

Via News18

GJM gets 72 hrs deadline to end the stir from Mamata Banerjee

7:11 PM

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee issued a 72-hour ultimatum to the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha leaders Saturday to withdraw the call for an indefinite bandh. An aggressive Mamata said: “Enough is enough. For eight days,we have tolerated the strike. But now,I declare the strike unconstitutional as the Calcutta High Court has done. I am rough and tough. The bandh has to end,” she said.

The ultimatum was a clear warning to the GJM leadership that they should either fall in line or be ready for arrests. Mamata Banerjee’s harsh words turned the heat on in the Hills. GJM Chief Bimal Gurung,who has already resigned from the Gorkha Territorial Administration,responded instantly saying they were ready to take on the challenge.

“Mamata Banerjee is threatening to break the spontaneous agitation in the Hills for a separate Gorkhaland state. Banerjee would have to withdraw the ultimatum or else the Hills will respond with a Janata curfew. Now you see millions on the streets demanding Gorkhaland. Once the Janata curfew comes in force,not a soul will step out of their homes. The streets will be deserted if she tries to break the bandh with the help of police and by force.”

The Darjeeling Hills have been under an indefinite strike since August 3 with sporadic violence erupting in different parts of the hills. Tourists have been turned out of the hill town while all schools and colleges are shut. Tea gardens,though exempted,are suffering as the produce is not being despatched due to lack of transport.

The CM,however,clearly indicated that her administration will not hesitate to arrest the GJM top leadership after the 72-hour deadline.

“There are scores of criminal cases pending against all and every possible constitutional action will be taken to break the abnormal situation in the hills,” Banerjee said. Mamata also warned the Centre against any kind of interference in the matter. “For one LS seat,no one has the right to play a divide and rule game. Let us act together in the matter of Darjeeling,” she appealed

Bengal’s Successive Rulers Responsible For Darjeeling’s Recurring Distress

9:03 AM

Writes: Jaideep Mazumdar

Successive regimes in Bengal have very loudly asserted the state’s claims over the 3,150 square kilometres of mountainous terrain popularly called the Darjeeling hills every time the demand for Gorkhaland reverberates through the hills. But such loud assertions have done little except further alienate the Nepali-speaking residents of the under-developed hills steeped in poverty and neglect. And successive rulers of Bengal have shown a remarkable insensitivity towards, and lack of understanding of, the aspirations, sentiments and needs of the simple folks of the hills.

It is this insensitivity and lack of understanding – further accentuated now with grave provocation from an unthinking and whimsical Mamata Banerjee – that has led to the demands for Gorkhaland getting stronger in the hills. And Thursday’s violence (8 June) in Darjeeling is one more episode in the seemingly unending saga of unrest that the hills has convulsed in periodically over the past nearly four decades now.

The trigger for Thursday’s violence was the Bengal government’s decision to make Bengali a compulsory language in all schools across the state. The announcement caused immediate ripples with the people in the hills voicing their strong protest against this imposition of Bengali. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which spearheaded a three-and-a-half-year-long agitation for creation of a separate Gorkhaland state from late 2007, led the protests and accused Mamata of trying to promote the Bengali language over Nepali.

Though Mamata announced earlier this week that schools in the hills would be exempt from the Bengali language order, the damage was already done. The deep distrust between the politicians of the plains of Bengal and the Darjeeling hills manifested itself with GJM chief Bimal Gurung asserting that Mamata’s announcement was not convincing and she was merely trying to hoodwink the people of the hills. The GJM announced a string of protests in the hills to coincide with Mamata’s visit to the area that started on Tuesday (6 June).

Mamata’s blasé presence in the hills was a red rag to the GJM, which has been facing a political challenge from Mamata’s Trinamool Congress. Mamata’s Marxist predecessors had preferred to stay away from the hills and allow the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), which led a seven-year-long agitation for Gorkhaland state that ended with the signing of the Darjeeling Accord and formation of the semi-autonomous Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) in August 1988, to be the unchallenged political force in the hills. But Mamata has been trying to expand her political footprints there since 2013 when the Trinamool Congress’ alliance with the GJM broke down over the latter’s decision to revive the Gorkhaland demand.

Failure of the DGHC and rise of GJM

The DGHC experiment was a failure since the then Marxist rulers of Bengal managed to co-opt GNLF chief Subhas Ghising and turned him into a local autocrat who kept demands for more autonomy in check for two decades. The DGHC also did not get its promised level of autonomy and funds, and the hills continued to remain under-developed and mired in poverty, disease and squalor. At the same time, Ghising and his men were allowed to loot whatever funds were allotted to the DGHC and enrich themselves at the cost of the hill people. Since Ghising was seen to be enjoying the patronage of the rulers sitting in Kolkata, the alienation of the hill people continued.

Two decades of Ghising’s dictatorship in the hills created a fertile ground for another revolt that was provided by, interestingly, the third session of the popular reality show Indian Idol. When Prashant Tamang, a native of Darjeeling working for the Kolkata Police started emerging as one of the top finalists (he went on to win the show), the people of the hills started identifying with him. Tamang represented the latent hopes and aspirations of the Nepali-speaking people of Darjeeling hills and their quest for recognition as a community with a distinct culture, language, history and ethos. Ghising didn’t attach any importance to Tamang’s feats, but his one-time lieutenant Bimal Gurung did and organised massive support in the hills and among the Nepali-speaking people across the country for Tamang.

Tamang’s win of the Indian Idol title boosted Gurung politically and in October 2007, he formed the GJM. The GJM became instantly popular in the Darjeeling hills and buoyed by widespread public support, Gurung launched the second phase of the Gorkhaland movement immediately. A series of bandhs, sit-ins, refusals to pay taxes and other peaceful modes of agitations continued. The Trinamool Congress, which was the principal opposition party at that time, supported the GJM and, before the 2011 assembly elections, entered into an electoral alliance with the GJM.

Formation of GTA and revival of movement

After sweeping the 2011 assembly polls, Mamata played the peace-broker and a tripartite agreement (between the GJM, the union government and the Bengal government) was signed in July 2011 to form the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) to replace the DGHC. The GTA was given more powers – administrative and financial – than the DGHC. The Bengal government promised to transfer many departments to the GTA. However, Gurung announced right at that time that the GTA was not an end in itself but a step forward to realising the dream of Gorkhaland.

The GJM won all the 45 seats of the GTA in the elections held in July 2012. But by then, relations between the GJM and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) had already started souring, more so since the TMC contested the GTA polls. The TMC contesting the polls was looked upon by the GJM as a challenge to its suzerainty over the Darjeeling hills. Soon after taking over the GTA, the GJM started accusing Mamata of reneging on the July 2011 agreement and not transferring powers to the GTA. Matters reached a new low with Mamata and Gurung indulging in sharp verbal exchanges.

That the Bengal government didn’t deliver on its promises, as per the July 2011 agreement, to transfer control of many departments to the GTA and give the latter greater financial powers caused more rift between Mamata and the GJM. The GJM has been accusing the Mamata Banerjee government of going back on the agreement and making the GTA a lame duck body with little administrative and financial powers. Mamata, in turn, has been demanding political loyalty from the GJM as a precondition to delivering on the GTA agreement. She has reportedly sent many feelers to the GJM leadership promising all help if it severs ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But her overtures have been rebuffed.

The announcement of the formation of Telangana in July 2013 gave the Gorkhaland movement a fresh lease of life. The self-immolation of one Mangal Singh Rajput, a Gorkhaland supporter (he was of Bihari origin and his suicide proved that the demand for Gorkhaland cut across all ethnic lines in the hills), only intensified the movement. A series of indefinite bandhs followed, but the movement fizzled out due to harsh and often undemocratic administrative action against GJM leaders and supporters who were, on Mamata’s express instructions, incarcerated on various charges, many of them trumped up.

Mamata’s bid to capture the hills politically

Mamata stepped up her quest to gain political control of the hills. And she employed a variety of tactics, some quite dishonourable, for this. Using the district administration, which she packed with her loyalist police and administrative officials, Mamata continued her crackdown on the GJM and encouraged dissident GJM leaders and activists to join her party. She poured in a lot of money to strengthen her party in the hills and the Darjeeling unit of the TMC started taking on the GJM, which till then enjoyed unchallenged sway in that part of the state.

One of the primary reasons for Mamata’s deep animosity towards the GJM is said to be the latter’s alliance with the BJP, which helped the BJP nominee S S Ahluwalia win the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from Darjeeling. Some BJP leaders, including Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Sushma Swaraj, had voiced support for the Gorkhaland demand. Though the BJP’s stand on the statehood demand is ambivalent now, many senior leaders of the party are said to be sympathetic to it.

Mamata, in a bid to weaken the GJM, started wooing ethnic minorities in the hills, like the Lepchas, Bhutias and Tamangs, and formed separate development boards for them. Till date, 15 development boards have been formed for ethnic groups. “This is part of Mamata’s divide and rule policy to weaken the Gorkhaland movement. She is trying to create fissures within the Nepali-speaking people of the Hills,” GJM chief Bimal Gurung told Swarajya. Mamata has, till date, sanctioned Rs 280 crore for the 15 development boards, not a small amount for a cash-strapped state like Bengal.

Mamata also started wooing top leaders of the GJM who were unhappy with Gurung’s alleged autocratic style of functioning. She succeeded in getting a senior GJM leader, Harka Bahadur Chetri, to quit the GJM in 2015 and form his own party. Chetri, an influential leader from Kalimpong, however, lost the 2016 assembly elections from his native town (Kalimpong), especially since Mamata declared him to be the TMC candidate. Some other senior GJM leaders were also wooed into the TMC. But Mamata’s bid to gain political ground in the hills suffered a setback when her candidates in all the three hill constituencies of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong lost to GJM nominees in the 2016 assembly polls.

That setback, however, did not faze Mamata, who kept up her efforts to take on the GJM. She met with limited success in the civic polls held to the Mirik, Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong municipalities. The TMC posted a handsome win in the Mirik municipality but faced ignominious defeats in the other three municipalities where the GJM-BJP combine retained power. Encouraged by the toehold she had gained there, Mamata continued her political blitzkrieg in the hills.

The fallout

The fall of Mirik to the TMC sent alarm bells ringing within the GJM, which saw the entry of the TMC as a grave challenge to its existence in the hills. The GJM realised it would face a battle for survival and could even be defeated politically if it did not take early steps to contain the growth of the TMC in the hills. The GJM faced an immediate threat in the GTA elections due a couple of months from now. And the best way to take on the TMC, figured the GJM leadership, was to revive the statehood movement. Gurung did so with his opposition to Mamata’s imposition of Bengali language in schools. This imposition fed on the Nepali-speaking people’s latent fears of being made subservient to the Bengali rulers from the plains.

What also provoked the GJM was Mamata’s presence in the hills throughout the week. Her presence was seen as a direct political challenge to the GJM. And as if to rile the GJM more, Mamata convened a meeting of her council of ministers at the Raj Bhawan in Darjeeling on Thursday (8 June). It was an ill-advised move since the Gorkhaland movement was once again picking up steam.

Ironically, the last time a cabinet meeting was held in Darjeeling was in 1972. And that time, too, it was held with the intention to prove that all was normal in north Bengal. The then chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray convened the cabinet meeting at a time when north Bengal had become the epicentre of the Naxalite movement that was sweeping through the state like a prairie fire. As Darjeeling Lok Sabha MP Ahluwalia pointed out to the Hindustan Times here, Ray had claimed that time that Bengal was normal and Mamata is also now claiming the hills are normal. “Both were far removed from ground reality. There was no need to hold the cabinet meeting in Darjeeling. She (Mamata) did so just to serve her political purpose of crushing the GJM,” said the BJP parliamentarian.

Mamata’s response to Thursday’s violence has been far from mature and nuanced. She retaliated, rather childishly, by withdrawing police security provided to Gurung. She also made good her earlier threat of conducting a special audit of the GTA’s finances. Coming from the head of a party whose leaders are being investigated for various scams and a cash-for-favours sting operation, the move to investigate the GTA’s finances in a bid to expose the alleged financial improprieties of GJM leaders was a bit too rich on Mamata’s part.

On Friday (9 June), she strutted around Darjeeling, where the GJM had called a 12-hour bandh, in an open but another ill-advised challenge to the GJM. The sight of the Chief Minister, hemmed by her security guards and party colleagues, walking around the town – she did it thrice in the course of the day – added fuel to the raging fire in the hearts of the hill people.

“It does not behove a person like Mamata who accuses the Modi government for being undemocratic, using the CBI for political purposes and violating the spirit of federalism to behave like a dictator in Darjeeling. How would she react if Modi were to walk the streets of Kolkata on a day the TMC calls a bandh in protest against some action by the union government?” wondered GJM chief Gurung. He also pointed out that whenever she comes to the hills, Mamata makes it a point to snub the elected representatives of the GTA, the GJM’s MLAs and even the Lok Sabha MP (Ahluwalia). “She never invites any elected representative from the hills to any state government or any other function in the hills. And then she talks about democracy,” said GJM leader Roshan Giri.

Mamata has already let loose her subservient police force and spineless civil administration officials on the GJM and many charges are again being drawn up against them. As the GJM is bound to harden its stance on the statehood demand, Mamata is also sure to step up her vendetta against GJM leaders and activists. And that will only cause more distress for Darjeeling.

Mamata would do well to catch up on the history of the hills. If she does that, she will realise that the Darjeeling hills became part of Bengal only in 1947. And ever since then, it has been administered very poorly. The hills have been starved of funds and kept under-developed. Extremely poor infrastructure, abysmal education and healthcare facilities, grinding poverty, criminal neglect of the hills by the powers-that-be in Kolkata and Bengali majoritarianism have totally alienated the simple hill folks.

Mamata would also do everyone a favour by looking at the economy of the hills. The two Ts – tea and tourism – are the mainstay of the hills’ economy. Darjeeling is Bengal’s prime tourist destination. But little has been done by successive governments in Bengal to preserve the scenic town and improve its rickety infrastructure. Even the roads of the town, which the British named the ‘Queen of the Hills’, would put the worst road in the most backward village of India to shame.

Tourism does not generate a lot of earnings for the locals. That’s because most of the hotels are run by Bengalis from the plains and locals find employment only as poorly-paid waiters and cooks. Many of the owners of taxis and SUVs that ferry tourists to and from the hills are Bengalis living in the plains. “What the hills people get from tourism is the little that tourists spend in buying mementoes and woollens,” said Giri.

As for Darjeeling tea, which fetches astronomical prices in international markets, the hill people are only employed as poorly paid labourers in the tea gardens. No local (Nepali-speaking resident of the Darjeeling hills) owns a garden and there are just a handful of Nepali-speaking managers running these gardens. All the profits made from Darjeeling tea are thus taken away to the plains and the hill people get little from tea.

A separate state of Gorkhaland, where Nepali-speaking people of the hills would be the real stakeholders, thus holds immense promise to the people of the hills. Gorkhaland is, for the hill people, not just a means to improve their financial and social lot but also to establish their identity firmly as Indians. “We are looked upon as migrants from Nepal, even though we have been Indians for generations. Gorkhaland will give us that identity as Indians,” asserted Gurung.

These are issues that Mamata, and her predecessors, have shown little understanding of. The Nepali-speaking people of the hills have quite often been looked down upon and treated as menials by the Bengalis from the plains. Mamata only reinforces the hills-plains psychological divide by trying to stamp her authority on the hills. And this is why the Gorkhaland movement will continue.

The history of the hills

Darjeeling gets its name from Dorji Ling, a Buddhist monastery built by the Denzongpas in 1765 on behalf of the Chogyal (King) of Sikkim. The roughly 3,150 square kilometres of territory that is called the Darjeeling hills today (comprising the hills section of Darjeeling district and the whole of the newly formed Kalimpong district) was alternately occupied by Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal.

In the late 1700s, Darjeeling hills was inhabited by a few hundred Lepchas and was held by Sikkim. But in the 1790s, the Gurkhas from Nepal started invading the area and they eventually defeated the combined Bhutia and Lepcha army of Sikkim. The invading Gurkha army also attacked and sacked Sikkim’s then capital Rabdentse and annexed the Darjeeling hills.

After the defeat of the Gurkha army of Nepal in the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-1816), Nepal’s rulers were made to sign the humiliating Treaty of Sugauli by which one-third of Nepal’s territory, including Kumaon, Garhwal, Nainital and the Darjeeling hill tracts that were annexed from Sikkim, were ceded to the British. In February 1817, the British returned the Darjeeling hill tracts to the Chogyal of Sikkim under the Treaty of Titalia under which Sikkim became a British protectorate and extended many other facilities to the British.

In February 1829, a dispute arose between Nepal and Sikkim over their borders and the then British governor general Lord William Bentinck sent two officers – Captain George Alymer Lloyd and J W Grant – to mediate between the two kingdoms. On their way to the disputed border at Ontoo Dara, the two officers halted at what they wrote in their memoirs was “the old Gurkha station called Dorji Ling” that was then populated by about a hundred Lepchas. The two were “much impressed with the possibility of the station as a sanatorium”. In June 1829, both Grant and Lloyd urged the government to acquire Darjeeling hill tracts.

Governor general Bentinck agreed with them and also realised that the Darjeeling hills offered strategic advantages as a military outpost and trading hub. The deputy surveyor general, Captain Herbert, was deputed to Darjeeling to examine the area. The court of directors of the British East India Company approved the project. General Lloyd was given the responsibility to negotiate a lease of the area from the Chogyal of Sikkim. The lease was granted on 1 February 1835. The British paid a handsome compensation to the Chogyal of Sikkim in return.

After taking over Darjeeling, the British appointed a physician, Arthur Campbell, as their agent there and one Lieutenant Napier was deputed to lay the foundations of the hill station. The sanatorium was set up in 1839 and Campbell became its first superintendent. A road connecting Darjeeling to the plains was constructed the same year.

Campbell is also credited with bringing Chinese tea seeds in 1841 to grow tea on an experimental basis near his residence at Beechwood in Darjeeling. The experiment was successful and within a decade the British started setting up tea plantations in the hills. They set up many schools, which went on to become the best institutions in this part of the world. The setting up of tea and cinchona plantations, the construction of the railway line and roads and other construction activities brought in migrants from Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan who eventually settled down in the Darjeeling hills.

Within a few years, however, the Chogyal of Sikkim got into a dispute with the British, and the latter simply annexed Darjeeling hills and made it part of their Indian dominion in 1850. The British also acquired Kalimpong and the Dooars area of North Bengal from Bhutan after defeating the Bhutan king in the Anglo-Bhutan war (1864-1865) and making the latter sign the Treaty of Sinchula. These areas were clubbed with Darjeeling to form the Darjeeling district of the British India province of Bengal. Darjeeling became part of West Bengal in 1947. Thus, it is clear that Darjeeling was never historically part of Bengal and all the dynasties, including the Nawabs and vassals of the Mughal emperors who ruled over Bengal from the medieval times, never exercised any control over the Darjeeling hills.

Tragedy of the hills

Much like the state of Bengal, the tragedy of the Darjeeling hills is that its best and brightest go away in search of better education and prospects to other parts of the country and even abroad. This brain drain has led to the social, economic and cultural degeneration of Darjeeling. “The best students don’t stay back in Darjeeling after school. And once they go away, they never return. There are no jobs and business prospects here,” said a prominent educationist in Darjeeling who did not want to be named.

This brain drain has also caused an unfortunate intellectual vacuum in the hills. “Had there been opportunities here, bright people would have stayed back and would have provided political leadership. Our present political leadership leaves a lot to be desired,” said the professor who taught English at a very reputable college in Darjeeling. He alludes to the rag-tag bunch of GJM activists and the lumpen that make its cadres. He also recounts the many allegations of corruption and malpractices against the GJM leadership and says that had the political leadership been in the hands of the educated and accomplished people of the hills, the statehood movement would have taken a much different and successful turn by now.

The people of Darjeeling point to Sikkim, which has flourished and emerged as a front-ranking state in the country on many fronts. Darjeeling, they contend, developed much before Sikkim and had much greater potential to emerge as a prime tourist, business, organic, education and healthcare hub. Staying within Bengal, they contend, has ruined Darjeeling. “Darjeeling could have been what Sikkim is today,” rued David Lepcha, a prominent tour operator in Darjeeling. His regret finds resonance across the hills. Bengal’s politicians would do well to introspect why.

Via: Swarajya

 
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