The bandh observed by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha on Wednesday was triggered by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s recent visit to North Bengal, where she claimed that the state government has given Rs 4,000 crore as financial assistance to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA).
However, GJM insiders and some TMC leaders concurred that the shutdown called by Morcha chief Bimal Gurung was catalysed by Mamata’s announcement of declaring Kalimpong as a separate district- a move that could rapidly change political equations in the present sub-division.
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The demand for a separate district of Kalimpong has existed parallelly with the Gorkhaland statehood demand since the 1980s, although historically it goes back to the times of the British rule in India. Originally part of Sikkim, Kalimpong had been annexed by Bhutan in 1706. Following a war with the East India Company in 1865, the present Kalimpong subdivision was ceded to British India as part of the Sinchula Treaty.
Later, the demand for making Kalimpong a district was mainstreamed by Harka Bahadur Chettri, founder of the Jan Andolan Party. After the formation of GJM in 2007, Chettri, who was then a core member of the Morcha, won the next Assembly elections in the constituency with a margin of 87.3 per cent. Chettri later left the GJM over differences with Gurung and launched the JAP in January 2016.
After Mamata’s announcement to finally declare Kalimpong as the 21st district of Bengal – awaiting approval from the Calcutta High Court – Chettri lauded the CM. “Without her (Mamata) consent, this would never have happened,” he said, without mentioning his role in the movement.
GJM, on the other hand, was quick to take credit for the development, as Kalimpong had always been a stronghold for Gurung. “Everybody knows it was the GJM which launched the demand for a Kalimpong district before anyone else,” said party MLA Amar Singh Rai.
When Gurung announced that he would be calling a bandh in the Hills, he said it was to protest against Mamata’s claim of giving Rs 4,000 crore to GTA by the state government. However, a senior GJM leader told The Indian Express, “While that is one reason, the catalyst was the creation of Kalimpong district. People continue to associate the movement for a separate district with Chettri and it was only his seeming proximity to Mamata that had cost him the election in 2016, that too narrowly. Things might change soon.”
He added, “Chettri is still associated with protests launched by the Kalimpong district demand committee with its own charter of demands. If these demands are met, not only will Mamata Banerjee’s acceptance increase in the North, Chettri will also be credited with a win.”
Meanwhile, Mamata is slowly and steadily making inroads into the hills, with hundreds of GJM members joining the party recently at a public event in the presence of TMC’s Darjeeling observer Arup Biswas. While giving them the party flag, Biswas had said, “When the rest of Bengal is following the path of development, the people here don’t want to be left behind.”
In response, Gurung carried out a series of protests in Kalimpong. “Mamata Banerjee will be surprised. The people of Kalimpong will not give up the cause of Gorkhaland.” Mamata, on the other hand, hopes to prove him wrong.