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Facing revolt in party, GJM chief Bimal Gurung flees Darjeeling ahead of talks with govt

LiveMint logoLiveMint 28-08-2017 Arkamoy Dutta Majumdar

Bimal Gurung, president of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), has fled Darjeeling, faced with a rebellion in his party, a senior district official said requesting anonymity.

A day ahead of crucial talks between Gorkha leaders and the state government over the demand for greater Gorkha autonomy, a moderate leadership has emerged, even as Gurung alleged that a section of GJM leaders had sided with the state government.

Amid shifting sands, GJM’s assistant general secretary Benoy Tamang was last week named chief co-ordinator of the party. He is to lead the GJM delegation in Tuesday’s talks with the state government.

In an audio statement released from an unknown location, Gurung said a section of GJM leaders were conspiring against him and their own community. Describing them as “traitors”, Gurung said those engaging in discussions with the state government should not discuss anything other than the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland. If the state rejects the demand for a separate state for the Nepali-speaking Gorkhas, they should walk out, Gurung said.

Expressing willingness to start a “political dialogue” with the state government, Gurung had said in a letter last week that Gorkhaland was the only solution to the problems of the Gorkha community. That in itself was a climb down from his earlier no-talks-with-the-state stand, but chief minister Mamata Banerjee has made it clear that West Bengal will not be carved up.

However, other Gorkha leaders such as Swaraj Thapa, a spokesperson for GJM, had quickly clarified that creation of separate state was not a pre-condition for starting a dialogue with the state government. On Monday, Thapa said GJM was trying to resolve internal differences amicably. Asked about Gurung’s allegations of conspiracy against a section of GJM leaders, Thapa declined to comment.

Kalyan Dewan, another leader of the GJM and convener of the co-ordination committee created to lead the Gorkhaland agitation, said, “If the voice in the statement said to have been released by Gurung is indeed his, then it is indeed alarming and unfortunate. Differences within the party should not have been made public. Someone is trying to create rifts within the GJM and undermine it.”

These leaders declined to comment on Gurung’s whereabouts, saying that he is currently incommunicado.

As the state administration continued to pile pressure on Gurung by launching several criminal cases against him, the firebrand leader was forced to take the back seat for fear of being arrested and held in custody. He allowed leaders such as Dewan, who are more acceptable to other Gorkha parties, to come forward to helm the movement, but in the process, he appears to have lost control over GJM, said a key district official, who asked not to be named.

“Mistrust within the top leadership of the GJM isn’t anything new,” this person said. But until now, Gurung was the supreme leader. Things changed after he was forced to flee his home, allowing other leaders to call the shots, according to this official.

The moderate leaders within the GJM have popular support because the local people have given up on Gurung’s path of indefinite strike. “These leaders are now trying to end the impasse even at the cost of going against Gurung,” said an official in Kolkata, who, too, asked not to be identified. These leaders realize the state will not accept the demand for Gorkhaland, and that the centre, too, will not intervene, he added.

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