Bimal Gurung, president of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and Roshan Giri, its general secretary, met Home Minister Rajnath Singh in the national capital on Sunday to “request him” to consider the formation of a separate Gorkhaland. The home minister told the two leaders that another meeting would be held shortly to look into the matter.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Giri said, “Yes we met the home minister on Sunday. The main purpose of the meeting was to request him to set up a high-level committee to look into the demand of a Gorkhaland, separate from West Bengal, afresh. He told us that he will meet us again soon to look into the matter.’’
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The two leaders also invited Singh to visit Darjeeling to inaugurate two projects — a model school and a car park. “Both these projects have been constructed with Central funds. The inauguration will take place when the home minister sets a date,” said Giri.
The demand for a separate Gorkhaland resurfaced before the 2016 Assembly elections when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced several ‘development boards’ for different communities in Darjeeling district — such as the Lepcha development board and Tamang development board. The GJM has maintained that setting up separate boards outside of the functioning of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) is a part of Mamata’s “divisive politics”.
The demand picked up steam right after the Assembly election results were announced. While the GJM continued to retain all seats in the district, its vote share had fallen alarmingly by nearly 40 per cent and Trinamool had managed to make inroads. Before and after the elections, a number of GJM leaders joined Trinamool overtly and covertly. GJM spokesperson Harka Bahadur Chhetri formed a new party with TMC as its ally. After the elections, GJM vice president Pradeep Pradhan joined TMC in an elaborate event at Kerseong.
The widening gap between the two leaders — Mamata Banerjee and Bimal Gurung — came to a head when the GJM announced a general strike against the state government’s “continued interference’’ in the functioning of the GTA in September this year, which the TMC stiffly opposed. The TMC claimed that the strike was unsuccessful while GJM maintained the opposite, continuing to enjoy unrivalled popularity in the Bengal hills.
The meeting with Singh comes at a significant time with three crucial elections slotted for early next year — the Darjeeling municipal elections to be held in February, the two-tier panchayat elections also expected in the same month, and the GTA elections expected to be held in August next year.
Meanwhile, the Gorkhaland movement acquired another dimension with the launch of a small political party earlier in October this year called the Gorkha Jan Kalyan Manch. The Manch has launched an agitation separate from the GJM for a Gorkhaland.
It recently released a two-page document detailing why a separate Gorkhaland needs to be formed. Since November 15, GJKM president Krishna Chhetri has been on an indefinite hunger strike for Gorkhaland at Limbu Basti in Prakash Nagar area of Siliguri. The demand for Gorkhaland, which originally began in 1907, includes Darjeeling, Dooars and the Terai region of Bengal.