West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday announced the formation of an eight-member board under the leadership of ousted Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leader Binay Tamang to end the deadlock in Darjeeling, where an indefinite strike is approaching 100 days.
The move is aimed at ending the strike by vesting administrative power with moderate Gorkha leaders such as Binay Tamang, Anit Thapa—another leader ousted from the GJM—and Mann Ghisingh, president of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF).
The move, reminiscent of strategies used by jute mill owners faced with protracted lockouts, faced a setback within an hour of its announcement. A spokesperson for the GNLF said Ghisingh was not consulted over joining the board and that he will have nothing to do with it.
In West Bengal, which used to be notorious for labour unrest at factories, owners of jute mills faced with industrial dispute would allow production to be disrupted for weeks. When patience among workers would wear thin, they would secretly start negotiating with union leaders and get some of them to help resolve the impasse.
Niraj Zimba, a spokesperson for the GNLF, said Banerjee’s move was aimed at restarting the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA)—the semi-autonomous administrative body created in 2012 to run Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts. Elected representatives of the GTA stepped down in June in a bid to disband it at a time when fresh elections to the body were due.
She is trying to revive the GTA to dilute the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland, Zimba said, adding that the GNLF had always opposed the GTA and that the party was demanding an apology from the chief minister for including Ghisingh’s name in such an initiative.
To be sure, all Gorkha leaders, including moderate ones such as Tamang, have said more autonomy for the Gorkhas in administration is not a solution. This time, they want a separate state, though the moderates are in favour of ending the strike.
A key official in Darjeeling district said the move is unlikely to be successful in breaking the deadlock. Nothing will work until Bimal Gurung, the hardliner and the president of the GJM, is detained, the official said. The state has started several criminal cases against him, forcing him to flee his home in Darjeeling.
Even from hiding, he continues to lead the agitation and people who want the strike to end are not able to openly back the moderates for fear of retribution, the Darjeeling district official said, asking not to be identified.
The hardliners from the GJM slammed Banerjee’s move as an attempt to “murder democracy" in Darjeeling. The GJM is appealing to all Gorkha parties to spurn the initiative, Vinita Roka, a spokesperson for the party, said in a note.