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26 Jun 2017

In Darjeeling Protest, Many See Revival Of 1980s Uprising

 | NDTV | June 25, 2017, DARJEELING:  For most parts of the day, an eerie silence grips the town of Darjeeling. The whistling of steam engines, a familiar sound in the hilly town, is missing. On the street, a game of cricket or football is interrupted by the occasional police or press vehicle passing by. 

The only time there's any activity is when protests are taking place. Men and women of all ages march through the town in pro-Gorkhaland rallies through the day and hold candlelight vigils in the evening. They all have but one demand - a separate state of Gorkhaland.

"This is the voice of the hills. This is a constitutional agitation," says Jay Chhetri, a protester to NDTV. When asked if the agitation is reminiscent of the 1980s, he replies with a loud 'Yes'. 

In fact, many say that the agitation of 2017 reminds them of the pro-Gorkhaland rallies of the 1980s. The demand of a separate state of Gorkhaland started in the 1980s under the leadership of Subhash Ghising, a leader of the Gorkha National Liberation Front. 

"I saw the movement under Subhas Ghising. I could feel the pulse; everyone wanted Gorkhaland," says Father Kinley Tsering, a Jesuit priest and educator who has spent most of his time in the hills.

"We lost one generation of students in the 1980s. The same story is going to repeat once again. My plea to (West Bengal Chief Minister) Mamata Banerjee is to find a solution acceptable to everyone," the priest adds.

Today, students and professionals have taken the Gorkhaland agitation to different parts of the country and beyond the control of the existing leadership of the Bimal Gurung-led Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. 

"Maybe it was limited in the 1980s due to the lack of communication and internet. I am seeing my students in Sydney, US and even Mumbai and Bangalore coming together to demand Gorkhaland," says Father Tsering.

He also adds that the movement is not about territory but, rather, the feeling of group of people asking for recognition and identity.

For the GJM, it seems to be the last test for they'll lose the local support if they fail.

"This time's agitation is more rigorous than the 1980s. By any means, this time we shall succeed," says GJM supporter Tilakchand Roka. 

All eyes in Darjeeling are, now, on Delhi. So far, there has been no positive feedback to the demand of a separate state from the Centre despite BJP's SS Ahluwalia being a Lok Sabha member from Darjeeling. 

"Mamata Banerjee is responsible for this mess. But they have to sort it out through talks," says senior BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya. 

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