West Bengal’s chief minister Mamata Banerjee sees a deep conspiracy behind the escalating chaos in Darjeeling. Speaking on Friday to the media in Kolkata, she said, the agitators in the hills have links with militants. She directly claimed that militants of northeast India and foreign militants were behind the movement being carried out by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha. She said, ‘This is nothing but a conspiracy.’ She called upon the central government to look into the matter.
As the situation worsens, Mamata has called for a meeting of all parties on 22 June to discuss the Darjeeling issue. She has even called upon the Morcha to leave the movement and join the talks.
Darjeeling is geo-strategically important due to its location. Strong agitations from time to time create unrest in the area.
The demand for a separate Gorkhaland is over a hundred years old. However, in the eighties, former army subedar Subhash Ghising instigated ethnic sentiment and revived the movement. Later a close associate of Ghising, Bimal Gurung, drove Ghising away and rules the hills himself. After a period of lull, he stirred up a debate over the language issue and once again voiced the demand for a separate Gorkhaland.
The West Bengal government had declared it compulsory to teach Bengali in all schools in West Bengal. However, the chief minister did add that in the hills, Nepali would remain the first language. Bengali would have to be studied as an elective subject. The Morcha leaders did not accept this.
The West Bengal government has repeatedly maintained that they would not allow the state to split. The chief minister, accordingly, has taken a strong stance against the Morcha. Additional para-military forces have been deployed in the hills. Six columns of soldiers have been stationed there too. They have asked the central government for another four companies of para-military troops. And in the meantime, nine IPS officers have been given special responsibility to tackle the movement from Kolkata.
The stern stand of the state government has spurred on all the regional parties to join hands in a united alliance, creating an issue of the demand for a separate state. Even the Gorkha leaders, once very close to Mamata, are now with the Morcha. The Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) which had forged an election understanding with Mamata, has also joined the movement. The situation has flared up worse than before.
Over the last few days the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha supporters have repeatedly clashed with the police and security forces. The police have used batons and teargas to disperse the demonstrators, but to no avail. The army had to be brought in. The Morcha alleged that on Saturday four of their supporters were killed in police fire. At the press conference, Mamata Banerjee denied that the police opened fire. She said it was the Morcha that opened fire. She called for a judicial inquiry into the death of Morcha leader Binoy Tamang who was shot dead.
In order to extend the ‘bandh’ or strike from the hills down to the plains, the Morcha called for a 12-hour strike in Dooars on Sunday. On the same day, Kiran Tamang, an assistant commandant of Singamari police camp was said to have been knifed to death by Morcha demonstrators. The government announced he had died. Later it was said that he was alive, but hospitalized in a critical state.
Meanwhile, the agitators continue to shower the police everyday with stones. It is alleged that they are even using catapults to shoot and injure the police with stones. The police claim that on Saturday alone, 2 policemen were thus injured.
Morcha president Bimal Gurung, from an unidentified location, has stated in a message that the oppression of Gorkhas continues. He called upon all to defy the authorities and emerge from their homes to join the movement. Later, on behalf of the Morcha, Binoy Tamang said, there will be no talks with the state government. There can only be talks with the central government.
A few days ago, the central home ministry sent a proposal for a tripartite meeting, but the West Bengal government rejected it. The central government remains silent. However, it has asked the state government why the situation in the hills has deteriorated so badly. The state government is preparing its report in this regard.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has declared that if this chaos continues in this manner, the government will suppress it with a strong hand. She held a meeting on Saturday with the heads of 15 development councils formed for various communities in the hills. Later she told a press conference that in a democracy, there are talks of peace. We have no problem to talk. But chaos and democracy cannot go hand-in-hand. She said, the peace process has begun. Everyone is working to this end.
In the meantime, intelligence sources at the centre said that the West Bengal government had repeatedly been cautioned that the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha has joined hands with the militant organisations of India’s northeast to create armed unrest in the hills.
Several officials of the intelligence bureau said that in November 2014, two members of the Gorkha organization, Ganesh Chhetri and Umesh Kami, had been arrested in Chirang district of Assam. Ganesh had received arms training in an NSCN-Khaplang camp. Kami was a Gorkhaland Personnel cadre trained in Gorubathan. A US-made M-16 rifle, two Beretta pistols, three .32 bore pistols, 560 rounds of rifle and pistol ammunition, and 80 rounds of AK-series rifle ammunition was recovered in their possession.
The intelligence sources said that, member of the Gorkha Autonomous Council, Sanjay Thulung, masterminded the import of arms. He would send Nepalese young men to Myanmar for arms training. Upon return, some of them would be used to train GLP cadres in Gurubathan. It was through Thulung that Bimal Gurung came into contact with various militant outfits of Assam, Nagaland and Bhutan.
1907: The demand for a separate administrative unit in Darjeeling was raised for the first time. The Hillmen’s Association of Darjeeling submited a memorandum to Minto-Morley Reforms demanding a separate administrative setup.
1917: The Hillmen’s Association submited a memorandum to the Bengal government and the Viceroy for the creation of a separate administrative unit comprising Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts.
1929: Again, Hillmen’s Association raised the demand before Simon Commission.
1930: Hillmen’s Association, Gorkha Officers Association and the Kurseong Gorkha Library had Jointly submitted a petition to Government of India demanding separation from the province of Bengal.
1941: The Hillmen’s Association urged Government of India to exclude Darjeeling from Bengal and make it a Chief Commissioner’s province.
1947: The undivided Communist Party of India submitted memorandum to the Constituent Assembly demanding the formation of Gorkhasthan comprising Darjeeling district and Sikkim.
1952: Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL) president N B Gurung met Prime Minister Nehru and demanded separation from Bengal.
1980: Pranta Parishad of Darjeeling president Indra Bahadur Rai wrote to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi demanding formation of a new state in Darjeeling. The same year, Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) was floated by Subash Ghisingh.
1986: GNLF launched violent agitation for Gorkhaland. The violence claims 1,200 lives in two years.
1988: Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council accord was signed between GNLF, the Left Front government headed by Jyoti Basu and the Centre.
1992: Nepali language was included in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.
2005: MoU signed by the Centre, Left Front government and Ghisingh for special status to the Hills under 6th Schedule status to the Constitution.
2007: Gorkha Janmukti Morcha was floated by Bimal Gurung.
2008: Subash Ghisingh was ousted from the Hills. Starts living in plains of Jalpaiguri.
2010: All India Gorkha League leader Madan Tamang was murdered in Darjeeling. He supported creation of Gorkhaland but was opposed to Bimal Gurung.
2011: Three GJM supporters die in police firing at Sipchu (Dooars). Violent agitation started. The Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) was formed in the same year.
2012: The first GTA elections took place and GJM won.
2015: Bimal Gurung, chief executive of GTA, was charged with murder, conspiracy to murder and rioting with deadly weapons in the Madan Tamang murder case.
2017: Fresh agitation starts in the Hills during Mamata Banerjee’s visit. This time the GJM says making Bengali mandatory in schools is unacceptable.