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25 Jun 2018

Morcha, GNLF spar over hill control

Binay Tamang (left), PC Agrawal
Vivek Chhetri, TT, Jun 25, 2018, Darjeeling: The two identity-based parties in the Darjeeling hills - the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) - are upping the ante against each other in their attempts to emerge as the main political force in the region.

Both the Morcha and the GNLF enjoy the confidence of the Bengal government, which has been trying to keep the two in good humour to ensure peace in the hills. The friction between the Morcha and the GNLF has prompted worries about political stability in the Darjeeling hills.

The latest round of bickering has been sparked by the Morcha picking on a statement by senior GNLF leader P.C. Agrawal who recently said: "(Morcha leaders) Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa should be chased out of Lal Kothi (the office of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, the autonomous body that runs the hill administration)."

Agrawal, a former GNLF chairman of Kurseong municipality, had made the comment during a public speech at Kuresong on Friday while speaking at the 83rd birth anniversary celebrations of Subash Ghisingh.

At the event, GNLF president and Subash's son Mann Ghisingh had announced his decision to quit as chairman of the Hill Area Development Committee, which has been formed by the Bengal government. The move had been seen as an attempt by the GNLF to reposition itself as a party for the hill community.

Morcha chief Tamang released a media statement on Sunday demanding an apology from Agrawal. Tamang accused the GNLF of trying to vitiate the political atmosphere in the hills.

"Since 1986 (when the GNLF started the statehood agitation), the political atmosphere has been vitiated. Houses have been torched, people (of Opposition outfits) have been killed, statues have been destroyed. Since I took charge (of the GTA) on September 25, 2017, I have been calling for a change in such political practices," Tamang said.

"P.C. Agrawal has stooped to a new low and we demand an apology from him, or else we will take legal action against him," the Morcha leader added.

The GNLF, however, accused the Morcha of indulging only in lip service.

Party leader Ajoy Edwards said: "It (Agrawal's) was a political statement, which could have been countered politically. They (the Morcha) say one thing and do the opposite."

Edwards alleged that the second-in-command of the Morcha, Thapa, had threatened Agrawal's family with dire consequences over phone.

"Anit Thapa called up the 83-year-old leader's grandson on Saturday evening and son on Sunday morning and threatened the family. We have recordings of the conversations. Is this the political culture that they are talking about?" Edwards said.

The GNLF leader said the party wanted to end the "culture where leaders just pick up the phone and issue threats for a political speech".

"If they (the Morcha) want to take legal measures let them go ahead. We too will take legal steps," Edward said.

Agrawal refused to comment.

Thapa denied threatening the GNLF leader's family.

"I did not call his grandson but yes this morning I spoke to his son as he is a good friend of mine. I told him that his father should not be talking about chasing people out of Lal Kothi," Thapa said.

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