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Gorkhaland agitation: On the run, Bimal Gurung still calling the shots at GJM

LiveMint logoLiveMint 03-09-2017 Arkamoy Dutta Majumdar

Kolkata: The district administration of Darjeeling has been quietly playing a cat and mouse game to nab Bimal Gurung, the hardliner who until recently was leading the movement for Gorkhaland from the front.

The administration is of the view that if Gurung, who has been implicated in several criminal cases, could be arrested and held in custody, the movement will wind down on its own for the want of leadership.

As the police upped the ante, Gurung fled his home in Darjeeling, handing charge of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), the party he founded, to an old confidant Binoy Tamang.

Things were moving as planned and the district administration had almost pulled off a coup when Tamang last week announced that the indefinite strike in Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts were to be suspended from 1 September.

Along with two other Gorkha parties, Tamang had last week started a dialogue with the state administration to resolve the impasse. As a goodwill gesture, he had proposed to suspend the indefinite strike until the next round of talks on 12 September.

Gurung immediately sprang back from the “jungle”: from his hideout he sacked Tamang from the party and dismissed the proposal to withdraw the general strike.

After almost three months of efforts to diffuse the tension, the state has only managed to create a rift within the GJM.

In the past month, the police have conducted at least six raids to arrest Gurung, but each time he was tipped off and managed to flee, said a key Darjeeling district official, who asked not to be identified.

The last attempt was made on Friday, when the criminal investigation department of West Bengal police and forces from Kalimpong district crossed over to Sikkim to nab Gurung and other leaders from a meeting of the GJM.

It ended with a GJM activist killed in police firing and the Sikkim police starting a case of murder against a senior police officer in West Bengal. Ajit Singh Yadav, the superintendent of police of Kalimpong district, who has been charged with the murder of one Dawa Bhutia, declined to comment.

Over the weekend, the police continued to detain other GJM leaders, but Gurung remains at large waging war from the “jungle” against the state and moderate leaders such as Tamang, who, he claimed in a statement, had betrayed the Gorkha community.

On Sunday, Tamang accused Gurung of corruption and misappropriation of taxpayers’ money. He said sharp shooters had been hired to kill him because he is now the popular face of the movement. The rift is there for everyone to see but Darjeeling remains shut—proof that Gurung still calls the shots.

Amid the tug of war, other moderate leaders such as Harka Bahadur Chhetri, who defected from the GJM and started his own Jan Andolan Party (JAP), is trying to consolidate support for themselves.

There are moderates within the GJM as well who disapprove of violence and the unending blockade, said Amar Lama, a spokesperson for the JAP. But it is strange that Tamang announced the suspension of the strike without gauging popular sentiment, Lama added.

Niraj Zimba, a spokesperson for the Gorkha National Liberation Front, said people are now confused. “They don’t know who to follow,” Zimba said. “Though this is a spontaneous people’s movement and all are united over the demand for Gorkhaland, it needs a strong leadership.”

Putting Gurung behind bars would not end the movement, claimed Lama and Zimba, even as they admitted that the rift within the dominant GJM is a setback.

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