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3 Jul 2017

Darjeeling unrest: Keeping up the momentum of agitation now challenge before hill parties

GJM
A section of the children fielded by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leaders in Darjeeling to demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland.(Bikram Sashanker)
Avijit Ghosal and Pramod Giri, HT, Jul 03, 2017: With the initial wave of agitation already behind them, the main challenge before the hill parties is how to keep up the momentum of the Gorkhaland movement. The situation has turned all the more challenging since the Mamata Banerjee administration has adopted a wait and watch attitude, and not employ force that may provoke the agitators into confrontation with the police.

The new 30-member Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee that was set up on June 29 will be dealign with this big question when it meets for the first time on July 6.
Incidentally the indefinite bandh reached its 19th day on Monday. On the ground sporadic violence continued with thousands of people regularly hitting the roads, and government properties are regularly set on fire.
“There is no doubt at all as all hill people and political parties are with the movement. “The Centre should not be silent,” remarked Roshan Giri, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) general secretary when asked if the GJM i sure which way the movement would head.
Fire fighters dousing the flames in a government building on June 28. Setting fire to government properties has been a favourite means of the agitators. (Bikram Sashanker)



The state government seems to have diluted its stand a bit from the tough no-talks-till-violence-continues stand, and Goutam Deb, state tourism minister and Trinamool Congress Darjeeling district committee president said, “If they want talk let them write to the state government. Our doors are always open for the talks.”

Significantly, GJM did not find any support from Trinamool’s opponents. “The state government should immediately write a letter to the Centre asking it to call tripartite meeting without any condition. The GJM should also not set any precondition,” said Asok Bhattacharya, Siliguri mayor and CPM MLA from Siliguri.

There is a dominant school of thought within the state government that feels if the agitators are not provoked, they will find it difficult to sustain the agitation. They argue that the hill parties, primarily Gorkhaland Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leaders, are facing he pressure of the situation on two counts. First, the indefinite bandh is taking a toll on the people who are finding it increasingly difficult to cope up with this prolonged shutdown. Second, the Internet ban has taken a toll on the agitators who are finding it difficult to coordinate among themselves. Third, with provisions slowly depleting, the people in the hills will face the real testing times in the near future.

The GJM leaders hoped that the Centre will come to their rescue. On June 18, a day after its three supporters fell to the bullets of security forces, Darjeeling MLA and GJM leader, Amar Singh Rai said, “It was unfortunate that BJP MP S S Ahluwalia was absent from the hills during the hour of crisis.” GJM leaders also said that they will not speak to the Mamata Banerjee government, but will speak only with the Centre.

But so far, there has been no response to their pleas from the Union government. BJP is faced with an unenviable situation where if it seen siding with those demanding Gorkhaland, Trinamool Congress is certain to whip up sentiments in the plains against it where the fate of 41 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats and 291 out of the 294 assembly seats are decided.

The Union home ministry has passed the ball to the court of Mamata Banerjee saying the trigger has to come from the state government.

On the ground the protesters are resorting to sporadic vandalism. But the question on many lips is, where does the agitation go from here.

On June 28, the police report filed to chief minister Mamata Banerjee advised a strategy to avoid confrontation and adopt a wait and watch approach. The logic: it will deprive the hill parties of any opportunity to stoking the agitation.

File picture of a vehicle set ablaze by protesters in Darjeeling. According to police figures, at least 22 vehicles were set on fire by the agitators in Darjeeling since June 8. (HT Photo)
Since June 17, the day when three GJM supporters fell to the bullets of security forces, the police have not created any situation where there was any violent confrontation between the agitators and the security forces. Forget bullets and tear gas, the police did not wield the lathi. On the day of burning of the GTA accord too, the police allowed the protesters to organise their agitation that passed off without any major showdown.

“We decided not to settle for anything less than a separate state,” said Binay Tamang, assistant secretary of GJM after the all-party meeting in Kalimpong where the decision for collective leadership was taken.

That seems easier said than done. Though the movement for Gorkhaland has generated unprecedented momentum, there is a degree of frustration among a section of the supporters as they do not see any way out in immediate future.

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