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October 26, 2013

Peace returns to Hills, Morcha joins Mamata no-bandh call

Peace returns to Hills, Morcha joins Mamata no-bandh call

The Richmond Hill portico in Darjeeling on Friday set the stage for a scene none had thought possible in the last four months.

An hour-long meeting was all it took for Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leaders to pose for photographs beside chief minister Mamata Banerjee, nodding and smiling when she announced that the state would help the Morcha run Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). Morcha leaders seemed eager to bury the hatchet and even lent their voice to Mamata`s `no-bandh` call. What led to the uncharacteristic Uturn by the Morcha after months of bitterness?

According to sources, the CM has instructed IPS officer Raj Kanojia, the state`s pointsman in the Hills, to `reconsider` all criminal cases against the estimated 1,300 Morcha leaders and supporters who were thrown behind bars in the state`s crackdown during the recent Gorkhaland bandh. The going had got tough for the Morcha with several central committee members and GTA sabhasads in jail and GTA nonfunctional. Second, Mamata chose not to pitch her own party as a political alternative to the Morcha, allowing Bimal Gurung`s party its political space in the Hills.

It was enough for the Morcha to roll out the red carpet for Mamata, only two months after Gurung had hurled a dare at the CM: “Let her come to Darjeeling, we will show her who we are.“

For the Morcha, Mamata`s helping hand couldn`t have come at a better time. Gurung not only offered his best wishes to the CM but sent his key man, general secretary Roshan Giri, along with GTA`s interim chief Col (retd) Ramesh Allay and MLA Harka Bahadur Chhetri, to greet her.

Harka tried to explain the Morcha turnaround. “The relationship got strained because of some miscommunication (with the state government). But the chief minister has taken care to get things sorted out. She has delved into every issue and we are very satisfied with the outcome today,“ he said.


>> Govt`s swift crackdown on GJM leaders and supporters paralysed Bimal Gurung`s party. The GTA, too, became non-functional.

>> Mamata chose not to pitch own party as a political alternative to the GJM, allowing Gurung his political space in the Hills With GJM on its knees, the CM asks administration to reconsider criminal cases against its leaders.

>> She leaves door open for Gurung to be reinstated as GTA chief executive; crucial decision to be taken by elected GTA members.

>> She promises to ensure funds flow to Darjeeling.

It will be a bandh on bandhs: Harka

Mamata touched upon some of the issues that led to the thaw. “Under the GTA agreement, the chief executive has to be elected within a month. That date expires tomorrow. The GTA elected executives will decide on it,“ she said, leaving the door open for Gurung to be reinstated as GTA chief executive should he choose to. Chhetri remained noncommittal on this, saying: “There may be surprises in store.“

Mamata promised a meeting with the Morcha soon after the assembly reconvenes on November 18, followed by tripartite talks (with the Centre) in Kolkata. She assured that her government will do its bit on funds for Darjeeling. “There is also the question of central assistance. My party MPs will move the Centre to expedite it. I have always maintained that we will do all it takes to usher development in the Hills. In this context, I appeal to everyone not to resort to strikes or shutdowns. It not only piles up economic loses year on year but also delays developmental work,“ the CM said.

Chhetri added: “We remain committed to the development of Darjeeling and we will do everything to achieve it. The government has committed to address all our issues.“

The photo-op moment came when Mamata and Harka jointly appealed to tourists to return to Darjeeling. “It will be a bandh on bandhs,“ Harka said, beside a beaming chief minister. In Darjeeling`s tumultuous politics, the promise of peace yet again capped the chief minister`s three-day stay in the Hills.

The news was first published in The Times of India on October 26, 2013.