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Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief Bimal Gurung speaks to the Indian Express about an issue that has become their “core ideology”, and his changed relations Mamata Banerjee, who he once called “mother”.
So you are reviving the Gorkhaland issue?
Now, it is Gorkhaland and nothing else. We have tolerated enough. The issue was our core ideology. Now, we will revive the Gorkhaland police, women wing, Gorkhaland map and signboards. Our Gorkhaland map will have parts of Terai, Dooars and other regions, apart from the hills. There is no turning back. Since 2007, we are demanding a separate state and now, is our final push. People are ready for a bigger agitation.
In 2011 and 2013, bandhs crippled life in the hills. It was hard for the locals.
We endured hardships because our ultimate goal was of a separate state. I am not a supporter of bandh. But if the government forces us, what can we do? Our hills are self-sufficient and we can endure without help from outside. People want Gorkhaland and are ready to bear hardships. I am speaking their voice.
Why are you suddenly reviving the Gorkhaland demand?
We were fooled by state government when we signed the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). Nearly 50 departments were to come under GTA but only three or four came. Nearly five years have passed and nothing happened. We were not allowed to work and GTA became a sham… Then suddenly, government imposed Bengali on us, making it mandatory to be studied in schools. What about our mother tongue Nepali? Then police lathicharged us.
Do you think Bengali-Nepali divide will take place?
We respect and love Bengalis. We have always welcomed tourists. It is the CM who is dividing communities in the hills and creating a Bengali-Nepali divide. All we wanted is our own identity and respect for our language — our mother tongue. We will not allow anyone to impose Bengali on us.
Do you have ambitions of becoming chief minister?
As Mamata Banerjee is the head of state and the chief minister, I am head of GTA, the hill administration. I am the chief minister of the hills. I have all three MLAs here… the MP and nearly all elected representatives of civic bodies in the hills are with me.
Do you think the Union government will support your Gorkhaland demand?
When trouble started in Darjeeling, I briefed the Union Home Minister and our MP. I have been speaking to the Centre about the issue. I have supported BJP in the Hills, campaigned for it in other states, including Assam. This is our legitimate demand.
There have been allegations of misappropriation of funds in GTA. State government has ordered a special audit.
These are all lies. Already, there has been an audit. Mamata Banerjee is trying to frame us. Her party leaders are involved in Sarada (chit fund scam) and Narada (sting operation) scams.
Following Thursday’s violence, police lodged an FIR against you and may arrest you.
I call them to arrest me. I was not involved. Miscreants backed by TMC started the trouble. I am ready to go to jail. But the government will be responsible for the violence, which will follow in the hills. Let them arrest me and you will see what happens. Forty-five of our youths were injured in police lathicharge that day.
You once had a good relationship with Mamata Banerjee.
I called her mother. But she did not take care of her child. We welcomed her in Darjeeling. But she tried to divide us by making separate boards for Lepchas and other communities. She wants to get political mileage. Now, whenever she will come to the hills, we will show her black flags. She is not welcome here anymore.
What will be your next plan of action?
We will protest democratically. People will protest. We will boycott the government. We will place our demand before the Centre. If the government commits atrocities on us, I will not be held responsible for the results. So many Gorkhas have fought or are fighting for our country. They need a homeland — a separate state.