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30 Jun 2017

Swayed by ‘mass sentiment’, Hills parties extend bandh

Deep Gazmer | TNN | Jun 30, 2017, KALIMPONG: The Darjeeling Hills have been forced into yet another week of shutdown, past payday on June 30. The decision to extend the indefinite bandh till July 6 was taken in an all-Hills-party meeting in Kalimpong on Thursday — an apparently "unanimous" decision, though some of the participants, including some GJM leaders, wanted a relaxation.
In truth, however, the leaders — after racking their brains for over six hours — didn't dare to antagonise the hundreds of statehood supporters gathered outside the meeting venue. The protesters virtually held the leaders at ransom, chanting pro-bandh and pro-Gorkhaland slogans every time word got around that things were not going according to their wishes.
It was clear the agitation was slipping away from the leaders, particularly GJM. "This is a mass movement and we have to honour mass sentiments," said GNLF representative Niraj Zimba after the meeting.
The bandh-lift proposal came from Harka Bahadur Chhetri's Jan Andolan Party and the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League. The other parties — particularly GNLF and CPRM — didn't back the demand, possibly because they didn't want to swim against the tide. All the parties left it for GJM to decide, since GJM had given the bandh call in the first place. CPRM's Govind Chhetri also chose to go with the crowd. GJM, on the other hand, stood firm on its bandh stance, though some of its leaders were amenable to some kind of a relaxation at the very outset.
Hundreds of pro-statehood supporters from Darjeeling, Lebong and Lava gathered at Kalimpong hours before the leaders stepped into the Tres' Hotel around 1.15pm. They stayed put till the meeting ended in the evening, shouting pro-Gorkhaland slogans whenever they got feedback that things inside were not going as they wished. There was high drama at 4.30pm, when a GJM leader came out and asked the crowd to have faith in its leaders. The public mood outside clearly influenced representatives inside the meeting.
There was, however, a mood shift after GJM assistant secretary Binay Tamang reported in the meeting that their party general-secretary Roshan Giri had returned from Delhi after talking to senior BJP leaders. Tamang didn't divulge details of the dialogue with the BJP leaders but those present in the meeting said Giri had hit a blind wall on the statehood demand. The BJP leaders, however, gave him a hearing over the "police repression and firing" on the Hills people, in which three Gorkha supporters were killed. With BJP's central leadership ruling out the Gorkhaland demand, GJM is now keen on taking up the "police firing" issue with the Centre and seek its intervention. It was decided that the Hills parties won't engage in any kind of dialogue with the state government.
Caught in a bind between reality and surging emotion among supporters, the Hills parties decided to put a stop to the all-party exercise and buy time by forming another committee — Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee — to spread the movement to the Terai, Dooars and Siliguri. The proposed committee will have 30 members in all, with four members from the Dooars and the Siliguri-Terrai region. The committee will focus on three immediate demands: withdrawal of forces, lifting the internet and social media ban in the Hills, and the police firing during the Singamari violence on June 17, apart from its demand for a separate state.
The bandh-extension decision led to panic buying, because many residents had expected a relaxation to the two-week shutdown. Locals were seeing buying food and essentials in bulk at Lamahatta, 17km from Darjeeling town, where shops opened in the evening.
The Hills have been forced into an extended shutdown for yet another week past the salary day on June 30 with Hills parties taking a "unanimous" decision to extend the indefinite bandh till July 6. Party leaders racked their brains for over six hours in the all-party meeting to come out of the stranglehold but finally gave in to pressures from GJM supporters willing to continue with the bandh.

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