Although the talks between a seven-member Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) delegation and Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee resulted in an understanding in which the GJM agreed to refrain from public meetings and rallies in the Dooars region and plains,the events of the past few days have added a new dimension to the Gorkhaland agitation.
When the standoff in the Dooars tea-garden belt of Jalpaiguri district entered its sixth day on Tuesday,a Nepali versus Adivasi showdown seems more and more imminent. By shifting the agitation from the hills to the plains and the foothills of Darjeeling,GJM president Bimal Gurung may have been aiming to increase the pressure on the state as well as the Central government for a settlement. Disruptions in Siliguri and the Dooars create immediate ripples that affect the north-eastern states.
But in the latest phase of the agitation,the tribals settled in Siliguri and Jalpaiguri were drawn into the agitation,as they have been settled here for generations and are fiercely opposed to the plains and the Dooars going into the proposed Gorkhaland state.
The tribal welfare organisation Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad (ABAVP),therefore,had emerged as a fighting force in the battle. While Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has termed the conflict as racial and ethnic,the suspicion of the Gorkha leaders that the tribal twist to the agitation was engineered by Left Front partners,including the CPI(M),may not be entirely misplaced and the possibility of Left Front constituents giving shape to the ire of the tribals anger cannot be ruled out with any certainty.
On Tuesday,clashes erupted in Nagrakata and Malbazar areas about 40 km from Siliguri town following an attempt by the GJM to take out a rally demanding that Dooars be included in Gorkhaland,leaving 25 policemen and nearly 50 agitators injured.
While tribals along with the non-Gorkha residents of the region including Bengalis have long been opposed to the Darjeeling-based Gorkha leaders vision of Gorkhaland,the current flashpoint leading to the sharp deterioration in the ethnic relations in the region can be traced to clashes in December last year in Hamiltonganj between Morcha supporters and anti-Gorkhaland organisations. Among those whose property had been damaged was Left Front partner and the Revolutionary Socialist Partys (RSP) tribal MP Joachim Buxla.
Speaking to The Indian Express on Tuesday,he said,The whole Dooars region is against the Gorkha demand and against the GJM. In recent times,Morcha supporters have tried to intimidate RSP workers here with threats using weapons. They have influenced the local,illiterate Nepalis against other communities.
Buxla added: Everyone here,including the CPM,RSP,ABVAP and Bengali organisations like the Jana Jagaran Manch and Amra Bangalee and the ABAVP are against the GJMs demand. We are ready to chalk out a solution to the issue,but intimidation and threats wont work. Even some local Nepali residents are against the Morcha demand. Theyll never get Gorkhaland. They have already destroyed the economy in Darjeeling,now they want to do the same in Jalpaiguri.
Manohar Tirkey,the RSP MLA from Kalchini in Jalpaiguri told The Indian Express that the issue had been simmering for quite a while,but had only recently become a direct confrontation. We never thought we would have this situation. Nepalis and tribals,both poor, have lived in the Dooars together. Now the clashes are taking a racial turn,which is worrisome. Violence has erupted in both Nepali and tribal pockets, Tirkey said.
Now,at least temporarily,a respite seems to be sight after the GJM finally agreed to attend the talks that took place in Kolkata on Wednesday. Yet the agreement between the government and GJM seems tenuous,with Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri asserting,We stand firm that the Terai and the Dooars will not be deleted from Gorkhaland.