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Demand for Gorkhaland: 50 days on, with no solution in sight, Gorkhas remain resolute as protests cripple Darjeeling

The agitation and the indefinite strike to press for a separate Gorkhaland entered its 50th day on Thursday, but with the Mamata Banerjee government showing no signs of complying with the demand and the Centre remaining aloof, there seems no solution in sight.

The impasse has left Darjeeling crippled with shops shut, no internet serviced and dwindling food supplies. Except for medical shops, business establishments, hotels, schools and colleges have remained closed so far in the picturesque hill station.

“This is the longest spell of shutdown in the country and must be one of the longest in the world,” remarked Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) general secretary Roshan Giri in a The Hindustan Times report.

The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) on Thursday took out rallies in various parts of Darjeeling, demanding restoration of internet services and an immediate withdrawal of the police force.

About 12 activists of GJM's youth wing, the Yuva Morcha, are observing a fast-unto-death over the demand for Gorkhaland since 21 July. Apart from the GJM, several other hill parties and intellectuals have plans to march on the streets of Darjeeling with black flags and placards.

File image of a Gorkhaland protest. PTI

File image of a Gorkhaland protest. PTI

The Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee (GMCC), the apex body of the political parties which is spearheading the stir in Darjeeling hills, on Tuesday at its first meeting in New Delhi, had said that  the strike would continue and the movement for the separate state would be shifted to Delhi.

The 30-member GMCC on Tuesday had said that they would reach out to parliamentarians for support. "On 15 August, we will hoist the national flag but not observe any celebrations. We will instead form a human chain to highlight the excesses being meted out to people who are demanding Gorkhaland," GMCC president Kalyan Dewan had told reporters.

What sparked the protests?

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Benerjee's decision to impose Bengali language in all schools from Class I to Class IX triggered violent protests in Gorkha-led Darjeeling. However, the demand for Gorkhaland is not new.

A violent form of protests emerged in the 1980s when a former soldier Subhash Ghising demanded a separate state under his political party Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF).

On 6 June, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), an unrecognised political party which has been spearheading the demand for the creation of a separate state, took out procession in the hills led by the party chief Bimal Gurung to oppose Banerjee's decision.

The GJM then called for an indefinite shutdown notwithstanding massive security arrangements, torching several state government offices. The GJM had demanded Central government's intervention on the Gorkhaland issue.

What has been the Centre's response?

The GJM, on Tuesday had given a 10-day deadline to the Centre to intervene in the logjam arising out of its demand for a separate state and threatened to intensify the movement in the days to come.

Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir told the Parliament that there was no proposal to form any committee to look into the demand for a separate state for the Gorkhas. "There is no proposal to appoint a committee to look into the merits and demerits of the demands of the Gorkhas, adivasis and others," he said during the discussion.

Responding to  Trinamool Congress' charges that the Centre had been instigating the pro-Gorkhaland agitation in the Darjeeling hills, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said, "We do not instigate (people). We have sent armed forces. We are fully cooperating, but ultimately it is the state government which has to take the initiative."

Where does the West Bengal government stand?

Banerjee has been staunchly opposing the bifurcation of the state. She had said that she will never support the division of the state and urged all political parties in the hills to restore peace and normal life in Darjeeling.

"Whatever happens, everyone should remember that I am ready to give up my life but I will never support dividing (the state) into parts. Every district is our asset. People from every religion, caste will be here", she had said in a rally in North Dinajpur district.

The chief minister also said that she will do anything for the development of Darjeeling but not anything which may lead to a riot. She also alleged that it was not the hill people who were creating the trouble but some political leaders.

What is the impact of the strike?

According to a LiveMint report, traders and businessmen are reeling in losses since the strike began in the hills. The report, citing a key government official in Darjeeling, adds that the West Bengal government has not been able to pay salaries of the employees. The prices of essential commodities have also skyrocketed in the region. "The cheapest variant of rice is selling at Rs 40 a kg and flour at Rs 80 a kg," the report added.

Darjeeling's economy, which is largely dependent on tea and tourism has been hit badly with a loss of at least Rs 400 crores, says a Business Standard report. "There has been a direct impact of Rs 200 crore on the tea sector. But most importantly, even when production commences, it will take time to prune the bushes and the quality will also suffer," Binod Mohan, chairman of the Darjeeling Tea Association was quoted as saying by Business Standard.

In these 50 days, about 87 tea gardens have shut down, rendering thousands unemployed. Government and private properties worth crores have been burnt and vandalised. This includes vehicles, office buildings, tourist lodges, two railway stations of the Unesco world heritage Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and five hydro power generation projects.

With inputs from PTI.

Updated Date: Aug 03, 2017 16:00 PM

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