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28 Dec 2016

Hill party mellows - Morcha ready to take part in two-tier panchayat polls

Gurung addresses the meeting of the Morcha's central committee in Darjeeling on Tuesday. Picture by Mohan Lama
Vivek Chhetri, TT, Darjeeling, Dec. 27: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha which had been demanding a three-tier panchayat system in the hills today said even if the Bengal government went ahead with two-tier panchayat elections despite its opposition, the party would take part in them.
"We want three-tier panchayat elections in the hills. The Centre and the state government had agreed to three-tier elections. We will also explore legal measures but if the government goes ahead with the election (for two-tier or even one-tier panchayat system), we will participate in them," Bimal Gurung said here today after a meeting of the Morcha's central committee.
The Morcha seems to be aware that the boycott of the panchayat elections will only weaken the party and it needs to fight all polls.
Elections to gram panchayats were last held in the hills in 2000. For the three-tier panchayat elections, a constitutional amendment is needed. This is because in 1993, Article 243M was amended to pave way for a two-tier panchayat system for the area which was then under the jurisdiction of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.
The central and the state governments and the Morcha, while signing the memorandum of agreement for the GTA on July 18, 2012, had agreed to implement the three-tier panchayat system which consists of gram panchayat, panchayat samiti and zilla parishad in the hills. However, the constitutional amendment has not yet come through.
The Morcha president today said: "I smell a political conspiracy of the Bengal government which is working on a plan to keep us outside the hills and then take charge of municipalities, panchayats and the GTA. Once the Trinamul government is at the GTA, it will change 'Gorkhaland Territorial Administration' to 'Gorkha Territorial Administration'. Its motive is clear as all recent correspondences from the Bengal government to the GTA mentioned 'Gorkha' instead of 'Gorkhaland'."
The statement indicates Bengal's correspondences to the GTA by dropping "Gorkhaland" will be made an emotive issue in the coming elections, especially to the hill body.
Referring to the high court order that said Gurung and 22 other accused in the Madan Tamang murder case should stay under the jurisdiction of the Calcutta police during the trial, the Morcha president said: "We respect the judgement of Calcutta High Court as no one is above law. However, many of our opponents are thinking that we will not be able to come to the hills. The order states we can travel out of the jurisdiction with due permission from the court."
He then jokingly said: "If I decide to stay in Calcutta throughout the period of the trial, then we will have dual administration in Calcutta, one at Nabanna and the other at Gorkha Bhavan. This is because all secretaries and officials and other employees of the GTA have to travel to Calcutta and stay at Gorkha Bhavan for official purpose."
The Morcha had held dharnas and rallies in Delhi from December 12 to 16. During one such dharna at Jantar Mantar, members of the All Bodo Students' Union (ABSU) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland had shared stage with the Morcha and supported each other's demand.
However, Gurung today hinted that he was not in favour of a joint movement. "I don't think the development was good. This will not do good for our movement. We want our agitation to be conducted in a peaceful manner. We don't know about their mode of agitation. We have to work separately and cautiously," he said.
The Morcha also decided to change its flag by rearranging the symbols and reworking the spelling of the word "Gorkha" in Nepali. The Telegraph had reported in its December 23 edition that the Morcha flag would be redesigned.

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