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Decision to withdraw Darjeeling stir brings GJM rift to the fore

LiveMint logoLiveMint 31-08-2017 Arkamoy Dutta Majumdar

The revolt against Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) president Bimal Gurung popped out into the public domain on Thursday with newly appointed chief coordinator of the party Binoy Tamang announcing withdrawal of the general strike from 1 to 12 September, while hardliners insisted no decision had yet been taken.

In a tit-for-tat move, GJM general secretary Roshan Giri late on Thursday said that the party had ousted Tamang as its chief coordinator and added that he and another leader Anil Thapa are to be expelled.

After Gurung fled Darjeeling for fear of being detained by the state administration for alleged involvement in criminal activities, Tamang was appointed GJM’s chief coordinator earlier this month. On Thursday, after holding a meeting with key party functionaries at Kurseong, Tamang announced that the strike was being withdrawn till the next round of talks.

On Tuesday, Gorkha leaders from three parties met chief minister Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata to start a “political dialogue” over the demands of the Nepali-speaking community in West Bengal. Their principal demand remains creation of a separate state of Gorkhaland though the state rejected it.

The next round of talks is to be held in Siliguri on 12 September.

Meanwhile, Gurung issued a statement through Roshan Giri, GJM’s general secretary, stating that the strike had not been withdrawn, while reiterating his earlier stand that there was no question of winding up the agitation programme when the state administration was not even willing to discuss Gorkhaland.

Banerjee had reasoned on Tuesday that it was beyond the state’s jurisdiction to unilaterally discuss creation of a separate state.

Topden Bhutia, a GJM spokesperson, said the meeting held in Kurseong on Thursday had no legitimacy because only 25-30 of the party’s 93 central committee members had attended. They could not have decided on their own to withdraw the general strike, he added.

On Friday, a faction of the GJM is to meet in Darjeeling to take stock of the situation, according to Bhutia, who described this meeting as the “truly representative one”.

Tamang, who led the GJM in Tuesday’s talks, drove a wedge through the party when he said that he was hopeful that further discussions with the state government would help resolve the standoff, and that as a goodwill gesture the bandh was being withdrawn for 12 days.

Clearly, there’s pressure from the local people to lift the 80-day-old blockade. But ending the strike even without achieving anything would ease the pressure on the state government, said Darjeeling district officials, who asked not to be named. The centre has said it will not immediately intervene.

It is feared that factions within the GJM could turn against each other, and Darjeeling could witness more violence in the days ahead, said the officials cited above. “This marks the beginning of the fight for control, and it is not immediately clear which side has more popular support,” said one of the officials.

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