Gorkhaland agitation: Centre, West Bengal govt need to sort out many differences for future talks

The hills of Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts in West Bengal might have got back to the “normal” rhythm of life. But there lingers a nagging sense of unease over the region’s political future. The Centre — dragging its feet on the promised talks with the stakeholders concerned — has done little to alleviate this feeling. It has been more than six weeks now that an assurance by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, to convene within a fortnight a meeting “to discuss all related issues”, had been met with the strike being called off. But the proposed talks remain elusive.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

It is no secret that the Centre and the West Bengal government are not on the same page on the question of who should be invited for the talks to represent the GJM. The GJM continues to be the principal political force in the hills, notwithstanding the fractious relations between the faction owing allegiance to Bimal Gurung, the party’s president who is on the run, and the one loyal to Binay Tamang, who has earned the confidence of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The bone of contention is over whether or not Gurung should be given a seat at the table. While New Delhi is keen to ensure he is, there is talk in political circles of the Centre being even open to the idea of having both him and Tamang in any future talks.

But there are indications that the state government is not amenable to the idea of the GJM chief’s presence there. After all, Gurung has been accused by the state police authorities of being behind several incidents of violence during the June-September unrest in the hills. He had been served a look-out notice after being slapped with, among others, charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. And at a time when the state authorities are tightening the screws on the fugitive GJM chief, reports that the Centre is looking at engaging the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the probe, as had been sought by the GJM chief, is not likely to go down well with the state government. However, Tamang maintains that no matter which agency conducts the probe, ascertaining Gurung’s culpability is only a matter of time.

Whatever be the prospects of any such talks with whoever represents the GJM, they will be held against the backdrop of differences in view-points of the ruling parties in the Centre and state over ways to resolve outstanding issues arising from the recent Gorkhaland agitation. Moreover, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Trinamool Congress have their own opposing political agendas in the hills. Added to this are the ongoing moves to dislodge Gurung and his loyalists from positions of authority within the GJM by Tamang. Tamang's own political position has only been consolidated by the powers he now enjoys as chairman of the Board of Administrators of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), thanks to Banerjee. She and her officials are going ahead with bilateral talks with Tamang and other hill leaders, with the next round slated for later this month.

Banerjee’s government has infused in a floundering GTA a semblance of functionality, announcing plans to allot around Rs 640 crore to the body for development projects in the hills. It seems she has also been successful in forcing Tamang’s hand into re-calibrating his party’s relations with the powers that be in Kolkata. While the Gorkhaland demand continues to resonate within his camp, what is being prioritised is “development” that can only be taken forward, it is argued, in cooperation with the state government. This is in contrast to the more hardline, antagonistic approach to the state of Gurung and his followers, whose “chapter” in the hills is now closed.

Neither Banerjee nor Tamang is overly in a hurry to call for the GTA polls, and that is understandable. Politics in the hills is in a state of flux and both would be testing the waters before facing the electorate. For either, it will be a litmus test. And, there is the key question of whether the bonhomie the two leaders share will hold in the event of elections. The chief minister’s party is hoping to make good the widening rifts within the GJM. As for the rebel GJM leader, whose political fortunes seem presently to be in the ascendancy given that the shifting allegiances within his party so far have favoured him, the times ahead would surely throw up reminders that leaders switching camps is one thing; whether their doing so is endorsed by their constituents is quite another.

Updated Date: Nov 11, 2017 12:12 PM

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