Killing of GJM workers draws hill tribals closer to Gorkhaland stir
Rajnath Singh urges protesters to hold talks and not resort to violence; also speaks to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee
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Kolkata: A day after three supporters of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) died in clashes with the police, tribal leaders in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district said they were under pressure from within their own communities to relinquish all Constitutional posts and join the mass movement for a separate state.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has created 15 welfare boards to pursue development of different tribes separately—a move slammed by the GJM as aimed at undermining the greater Gorkha unity. Members of three such boards on Sunday said they were under pressure to back the movement for a separate state for the Nepali-speaking population of Darjeeling.
To be sure, most of these tribes hadn’t given up their demand for Gorkhaland, but had lately lost confidence in the GJM leadership which helmed the movement to carve out a separate state. Already at loggerheads with the GJM, many had distanced themselves from the movement after the welfare boards were formed for tribal development.
But the tide may be turning in Darjeeling after three GJM supporters were killed in Saturday’s clashes. Though the state administration repeatedly denied police firing, popular sentiment has swung overnight, said Dipesh Ghatani, member of the welfare board for the Biswakarma, or the Kaami tribe. In an interview a week ago, he had said his community was no longer sure if Gorkhaland was a viable proposition.
The “police excesses” in the past week has helped the GJM foment a mass movement, said the member of another welfare board, who asked not to be named. Many of these boards are now struggling to keep their communities together. “There’s been some amount of intimidation as well, but it is undeniable the GJM has managed to mobilize the masses, cutting across tribes,” he added.
Meanwhile, Union home minister Rajnath Singh Sunday appealed to protesters not to resort to violence and, instead, hold dialogues to resolve any issue.
“All concerned parties and stakeholders should resolve their differences and misunderstandings through dialogue in amicable environment,” Singh said. “I appeal to the people living in Darjeeling and nearby areas to remain calm and peaceful. Nobody should resort to violence,” the home minister said in a series of tweets. Singh also spoke to chief minister Banerjee and discussed the situation with her.
The unrest started with the Trinamool Congress (TMC) trying to make inroads into Darjeeling district. The leadership of the TMC was misled by the early signs of alienation within the larger Gorkha community, said a political analyst in Kolkata, who too asked not to be named. As the party intensified efforts to break into the GJM’s bastion, the Gorkhas retaliated sharply.
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That the GJM felt threatened by TMC was evident when its spokesperson Roshan Giri said last week in a press conference that the CM trying to “grab everything”. The Gorkha community has been fighting for almost 70 years to neutralize the political control of Bengalis over the hills.
Popularity of GJM president Bimal Gurung was declining of late, according to the analyst cited above, but the Gorkhas are “extremely sensitive” about their own identity. “So it took no time to revive the demand for Gorkhaland and launch a threatening movement yet again,” he added.
The killing of three Gorkhas on Saturday has “reignited local sentiments”, said Binod Ghatani, chairman of a task force for the development of Gorkhas in the Dooars region. “People here (in the Dooars region) do not support the GJM, but they support the demand for Gorkhaland,” he added.
Looking at the intensifying standoff in Darjeeling, Biswanath Chakraborty, an election analyst and a professor of social sciences at Rabindra Bharati University said, “The Centre has to intervene.” The best solution in his view is to give the Gorkha population of Darjeeling greater autonomy in governance, including power to make some laws, under the sixth schedule of the Constitution.