Darjeeling's proxy political feud: GJM leadership crisis sparks war of words between BJP, TMC

The Supreme Court allowed on Friday the Centre to withdraw seven companies of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) out of the 15 deployed in the hills of Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts in the wake of the recent agitation there for a separate Gorkhaland state. It was ruling on a plea against a Calcutta High Court interim stay on the withdrawal of central security forces from the area.

The Centre's decision to pull out seven CAPF companies had earlier this month been strongly condemned by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who had described it as unilateral and one running contrary to the federal structure.

That the day's development in the apex court carries with it considerable political salience cannot be overstated. It comes amid an on-going war of words between the BJP-led Centre and the Trinamool Congress-run state government over the handling of the situation in the hills – one which is turning increasingly strident.

 Darjeelings proxy political feud: GJM leadership crisis sparks war of words between BJP, TMC

File image of GJM chief Bimal Gurung. Getty Images

Arguably what is now being played out has all indications of a proxy political feud reflected in the deepening divisions within the region’s dominant political force, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which itself is beset with its own leadership crisis. While the BJP has made no bones about its support for what presently appears to be a beleaguered faction led by party president Bimal Gurung, who is now in hiding, had it not been for the patronage of the Trinamool Congress, Binay Tamang might as well not have found himself in the position of political ascendancy he appears to be in today.

Perhaps it is paradoxical that a region where politics has for more than at least three decades been driven by the Gorkhaland narrative, and where there the political space for parties not in line with the separate state demand has correspondingly shrunk, has become a site for a contest between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress.

Both not only have an eye on extending their influence in the troubled region but are also inimical to the idea of its separation from West Bengal. While Banerjee has been unwavering in her outright rejection of the statehood demand, the BJP, which had once given to the local population the impression that it would address the contentious issue with sympathy, is well aware that too much proximity with those behind the statehood demand could well undermine its future prospects in the rest of the State.

Yet, the BJP remains Gurung's key source of support in his efforts to maintain control of his party and its rank and file, particularly in view of reports that sections of the leadership are switching allegiance to Tamang, who till a few weeks ago was a close associate and member of his coterie.

Only recently, in a startling revelation, the latter accused the party chief of even going to the extreme of planning to murder him. Quite predictably, not only has Gurung's camp rubbished the charge but the leader himself, in an audio message earlier this week, called for a reunification within the party and regretting that those who had gone astray were lured by lucre.

Side by side, such intra-party feuds rages the one between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress, who are on opposing sides of the chasm within the GJM.

While both might agree that only through negotiations with those behind the Gorkhaland agitation can any resolution to the crisis be arrived at, they have been openly critical of the each other's posturing on the issue.

The acrimony has outlasted the June-September shutdown when accusations of abetting those responsible for the unrest were periodically exchanged between the leadership of the two parties. The Centre's move to withdraw a section of the security forces on the resumption of what both considered normality in the hills only imparted the raging war of words an added dimension.

Left fuming by the decision, Banerjee was quick to respond in her inimitable fiery fashion. It was politically motivated and undemocratic she charged, shooting off letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Rajnath Singh. At a time when calm was returning to the hills after the protracted lockdown, the Centre's unilateral move to call back a section of the forces came not only as a "shock" but was part of a conspiracy hatched by the BJP to divide the state, she argued.

It is not that she has not made similar charges against the BJP for wanting to divide West Bengal before. The party has been under attack from the Trinamool Congress for having precipitated the crisis in the hills, turning a blind eye to the support being provided to the GJM, an electoral ally of the BJP, by insurgent outfits from the North East, Banerjee has claimed.

Not to be outdone in this war of words, the BJP's state leadership has slammed the state government not just for trumping up and framing false cases against Gurung, which have led him to be on the run, isolating him from GJM activists but also of working towards furthering the political interests of the Trinamool Congress, paving the way to authority of Tamang. The ultimate objective of Banerjee, it claims, is to ride piggyback on him to consolidate its presence in the hills.

With the BJP and the Trinamool Congress going hammer-and-tongs at each other, the critical question of whether it will be Gurung or Tamang who will be invited to lead the GJM in any future talks to resolve the outstanding issues related to the hills is being asked in local political circles.

The respective allegiances of these two leaders vis a vis the two parties is only too well known; what is not, however, is whether or not their opposing views are coming in the way of the future of these very talks the hills are looking forward to.

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Updated Date: Oct 27, 2017 17:47:42 IST