The first-ever rally held by the Binay Tamang-led faction of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) in Darjeeling on Sunday received a warm reception, with hundreds gathering at Darjeeling Motor Stand. This is also the first such meet since the constitution of the administrative committee set up by the Mamata Banerjee West Bengal government, which Tamang heads.
While political observers called the event a “watershed moment for Bengal’s Hill politics” even before it happened, Tamang, who was accompanied by Anil Thapa, referred to it as a “victory”. “In light of the tremendous support shown today even in a Gurung stronghold, we want to now appeal to the Centre that we should be called for the tripartite meeting, not Bimal Gurung. We are the ones who truly represent the people now,’’ Tamang said, speaking to The Indian Express after the meeting.
“We have had public meetings in Kurseong, for example. But this meeting was important because the Darjeeling sub-division was a Bimal Gurung stronghold and his own constituency of Tukvar falls in it. But even from Tukvar, as many as 100 vehicles full of supporters came to attend the meeting, is what the police have told me.
People have also come from certain tea estates which were also Gurung strongholds and areas bordering Sikkim, where he was hiding for a while. As far as we are concerned, this shows the decline of Gurung’s support base. The situation in Darjeeling is entirely different from what it was four months ago with the unlawful activities that the Gurung camp was carrying out. The public has gone against them. Moreover, all their main leaders like Gurung himself and Roshan Giri are not in Darjeeling. We are the ones who are here. We are the guardians of the people of the Hills now,” he added.
Sunday’s public meeting also puts Tamang and Thapa in a strong position to return to the drawing board when they, along with leaders from all other Hill parties, meet the chief minister on Tuesday for the fourth round of bipartite talks. According to Tamang, the leaders will be raising pending matters which need to be settled by the state government, as well as raise new demands.
“There are two fresh demands that we will be tabling. First, Kalimpong district was created but there are no sub-divisions. We are demanding that three sub-divisions be formed. Second, Bijenbari, with 23 panchayats, is one of the largest blocks in Bengal. We want this block to be declared a sub-division,” he added.
Tamang further said that the leaders will also discuss the functioning of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and what development projects could be focused on. He said the three issues this administration needs to look at is “Darjeeling as a tourism hub, an education hub and a health destination”.
“Besides these, there are some pending issues that need to be sorted. During the protests there were a large number of agitators who had been arrested. Seventy-nine agitators have been released by the government, but there are still over 150 agitators in judicial custody including senior citizens and teachers. We are demanding that they be released immeditaley. The bonuses of tea garden workers have not been paid in entirety and this needs to be addressed. Also there are three tea gardens run by the Alchemist group which are shut – these need to re-open. And if the company can’t do it, our proposal is that the West Bengal Tea Development Corporation take over these gardens,” he added.