Bimal Gurung's 'olive branch' fails to cut ice with Mamata Banerjee govt; deadlock likely to continue

The West Bengal government's response to the olive branch extended by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leader Bimal Gurung has been somewhat laconic and dismissive. The GJM leader had recently expressed his willingness to hold a dialogue with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, to defuse the crisis in the districts of Darjeeling and Kalimpong.

Nevertheless, the move has certainly animated the discourse in the hills, giving a fresh twist to events unfolding in the region. Be that as it may, prospects of the Centre getting together with the state government for discussions with the local hill leadership to resolve issues arising from last year's Gorkhaland stir appear arguably more distant.

 Bimal Gurungs olive branch fails to cut ice with Mamata Banerjee govt; deadlock likely to continue

File image of Bimal Gurung. Getty Images

Not that the ruling dispensation in the hills propped up by the state government has let go a chance to renew its tirade against Gurung, describing his move as "political drama" aimed at subverting the return of normalcy in the hills. It has minced no words and has even accused him of being a BJP puppet.

His associates have been prompt to retort back, arguing that the actual puppet – albeit of the state's ruling party, the Trinamool Congress – is Binay Tamang, who has won over a substantial segment of the GJM leadership and heads the board of administrators of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). That the GJM party is split into two camps needs no further stating; Gurung's talks offer with the state has only exposed, once again, the irreconcilables within it.

This change in Gurung's stance – whose opposition to talks with the state was, among other reasons, an important factor precipitating factionalism within the GJM – comes at a time when his continuing absence in the hills has provided Tamang with the manoeuvrability any aspirant to power might require. Gurung has been in hiding ever since a look-out notice was issued and various criminal charges were levelled against him by the state.

Besides being forced onto the backfoot politically, the timing of Gurung's move is also significant. Incidentally, the Supreme Court hearing on the state government's plea for recall of the notice restraining it from taking "any coercive action" against Gurung is awaited.

Also of much political consequence, amid these developments, is Tamang's visit to the Tukvar area of Darjeeling on Sunday, long considered a bastion of Gurung – from where he controlled the levers of power till turning a fugitive fleeing the law.

The foray – the first since the GJM split into two camps – created a stir in local political circles and was viewed as a statement of Tamang's confidence, having taken over control of the party. Such an assertion might not be totally misplaced, particularly when all the three hill municipalities run by GJM are under the control of those belonging to his camp.

But, it would take an election to test the popularity of the two among the people; and that is nowhere in sight, though polls for the GTA were due way back in July last year. A month before then the body was bereft of its elected members, all of whom resigned en masse as a mark of solidarity with the statehood agitation.

As for Mamata, the elections can wait. She has apparently played her cards well, having got Gurung to make a climb-down of sorts and express his willingness for talks with the state, even though she might not be interested considering the criminal charges against him. The GJM leader, however, continues to claim that the state police had implicated him and his supporters on false charges.

While questions have been raised over the robust actions by security forces during and in aftermath of last year's agitation – whether they were designed to serve certain political interests – it cannot be denied that the chief minister has had her way so far, getting key figures behind the statehood demand to dial down their rhetoric, at least for now. Yet, the situation on the ground is deemed not to be conducive enough as yet for her to venture a visit to the region. She might have to wait a while longer.

New Delhi has made no official comment on Gurung's recent insistence, that he is "ready for dialogue". Whatever might have transpired happened behind closed doors, if at all. But this does not help in the search for a starting point with the other stakeholders concerned to initiate joint talks, to resolve outstanding issues pertaining to the hills.

The BJP's proximity to the GJM – or rather to that faction of the GJM still loyal to Gurung – is, to an extent, proving to be as much an impediment to such negotiations as is Mamata's support to Tamang and his associates. Neither the Centre nor the state government can concur on which leader should, in the event of the much-anticipated talks, represent the party that remains the principal political force; one that stands in between unrest and calm in the hills, the split within it notwithstanding. For now, the deadlock continues.

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Updated Date: Jan 16, 2018 18:16:21 IST