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West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

New panel sparks Gorkha leadership feud in Darjeeling

At a review meeting in Darjeeling, GNLF's Ajoy Edwards alleged that GJM's Anit Thapa was not favourably inclined towards the Hill Area Development Committee (HADC)

Kolkata: Last Thursday at a review meeting in Darjeeling, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was suddenly faced with two feuding Gorkha leaders, who only two days earlier were exchanging pleasantries at a public function.

At the meeting, Gorkha National Liberation Front’s (GNLF) Ajoy Edwards alleged that Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s (GJM) Anit Thapa was not favourably inclined towards the newly formed Hill Area Development Committee (HADC) and that he had described it as “inconsequential".

The chief minister created the committee in November 2017 and handed its reins to GNLF president Mann Ghisingh, while the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), the principal body for development of Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts, remains under the control of the GJM’s Binoy Tamang and Thapa.

Though Banerjee brokered peace between the two, leaders of both the GNLF and GJM said such dust-ups are unavoidable if the committee and the GTA are to work simultaneously.

Despite Banerjee calling upon the Gorkha community to bury differences and work together for the development of the hills, the feud between the GNLF and the GJM was the fallout of her experiment, said key district officials who asked not to be named. They said the committee under Ghisingh is to be given three offices, and its mandate is to independently recommend development initiatives even within the jurisdiction of the GTA. The aim is to create parallel power structures and distribute resources between them, the officials added.

In turn, such an arrangement will make sure that the administration did not have to deal with another all-powerful leader such as Gurung, the fugitive GJM president, they said.

Asked about the spat over the HADC, Tamang denied allegations made against his aide Thapa, saying that he had only asked the committee to reach out to the masses and work closely with them.

Edwards said the chief minister had firmly defended the committee under the GNLF, saying that it was just as important as any other panel created for the development of Darjeeling.

During her visit to Darjeeling, Mamata managed to revive at least 13 tribal welfare boards she had created earlier, after almost all of them were mothballed in the wake of last year’s unrest. At the meeting, Banerjee told leaders at the helm of these panels to work together for at least a year.

The GJM and the GNLF are already at loggerheads with the support base of the latter fast expanding. There are signs that the GNLF is gaining ground at the cost of the GJM, said the officials cited above. Giving the GNLF responsibility for development means giving the party administrative support to expand further, they added.

Tamang, however, denied that Gorkhas were turning to the GNLF, saying that in the last election the party had received some 40,000 votes, but in a recent public rally, only 15,000 supporters had turned up. “That shows where they stand," he said.

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