Kolkata: Rebellious Naxalbari is once again living up to its hallowed past, this time resisting incursions by Gorkha leaders looking to spread their movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland in the plains adjoining Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts of West Bengal.
The epicentre of an epochal people’s movement 50 years ago, Naxalbari is the new frontier where a battle is being fought between expansionist Gorkhas and locals. At least two attempts to take the movement to the Dooars and Terai regions have been thwarted in the past two days as Naxalbari locals joined the administration to keep the Gorkhas confined to the hills.
The first such attempt was made on Saturday, when Gorkhas took out a rally at Sukna. Some 400 Gorkhaland supporters brandishing Nepali khukri knives were headed towards Siliguri town. They were stopped at a police barricade where they clashed with security personnel. In the melee that followed, several people were injured.
On Sunday, the Gorkhas tried to make their way to Naxalbari, but this time they were stopped by the local people, who burnt tyres at three entry points to the famous hamlet to keep the intruders out. Gorkha leaders, caught unawares by the spirited defence, alleged that the Trinamool Congress had orchestrated the move, using locals.
“We have mass support in Naxalbari," claimed Kalyan Dewan, vice-president of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). “It is inconceivable that the local people will stop a pro-Gorkhaland rally in Naxalbari. The Trinamool Congress has been funding some groups to run a movement against us and our demand for Gorkhaland."
Local Trinamool Congress leaders said the party had nothing to do with the resistance in Naxalbari. Two of them, who asked not to be identified, said these people could well be Trinamool Congress supporters, but the party didn’t ask them to take to the streets to stop the Gorkha march.
The Trinamool Congress is following the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM’s footsteps, said Biswanath Chakraborty, a professor of political science at Kolkata’s Rabindra Bharati University. Time and again during its 34-year-rule, the CPM has used local activists and apolitical organisations to neutralise pro-Gorkhaland movement in the plains, according to Chakraborty.
“The GJM has managed to engage the ruling party in reactionary politics, which may have unfavourable implications going forward," he added.
Such face-offs are likely to continue. On Saturday, the GJM announced that it will take the fight to the plains if the centre didn’t intervene in the current crisis in West Bengal.
The blockade will be extended to disrupt supplies to Sikkim as well from 9 August if the centre remained unmoved, said Binay Tamang, the GJM’s assistant general secretary.
A key official in Darjeeling said the Gorkhas are trying to “lay siege to the strategic Chicken’s Neck region" to intensify pressure on the centre to intervene. This person, who asked not to be identified, was referring to the narrow strip of land, also known as the Siliguri corridor, which connects the north-eastern states with the rest of India. It is strategic because of its close proximity to three international borders—with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
India’s need to safeguarding Chicken’s Neck is a major strategic factor in the current face-off between India and China over nearby Doklam.
The Gorkha leaders themselves aren’t facing any disruption because local merchants are making sure that supplies reach their homes, the official in Darjeeling said, adding that the strategy now is to block movement of supplies to Sikkim.