Gorkhaland agitation: Amid Mamata Banerjee and Bimal Gurung's political battle, Darjeeling gears up for tourism, business festival

The wintry air is crisp in the Hills of West Bengal’s Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts but the haze of uncertainty is yet to clear from the political landscape. And it is in such surroundings that the local ruling dispensation, prodded on by the West Bengal government that has set it up, is taking recourse to staging a tourism festival as well as a first-time business meet there, both of which will not only be showcasing the region’s potentials as a destination for holiday-makers and investors alike but also, perhaps more critically, its claims of success in restoring normality after months of political turmoil sparked by a 104-day-long lock down to press for a separate “Gorkhaland” state.

 Gorkhaland agitation: Amid Mamata Banerjee and Bimal Gurungs political battle, Darjeeling gears up for tourism, business festival

File image of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

The political underpinnings and the intended optics of the proposed five-day “Teesta Rangit Tourism Festival 2017” to be held in phases in different hill towns across the two districts from 27 December and the one-day business meet as part of the event cannot be missed. While it is aimed at highlighting the legitimacy of that faction of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM)—the dominant local political force—that has been given credence to by the state administration, the events to be co-sponsored by the West Bengal government might also be designed to project the image of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee successfully wresting control of proceedings from her arch political rival Bimal Gurung, the chief architect of the statehood agitation.

It remains to be seen whether or not Banerjee will make the trip to Darjeeling to inaugurate the festival which, if she does, (word is that she could and also be in Mirik for the closing ceremony) will be the first since her last visit there early in June which precipitated a prolonged spell of unrest in the Hills. But what has emerged over the past weeks is her gambit to shake up the political narrative in the region seems to be paying off, at least for now, even though Binay Tamang one-time rebel GJM leader—till he had party chief Gurung suspended for six months and assumed charge on 20 November—is yet to have his new credentials endorsed through a public mandate.

Politically, things remain in a flux, underscoring the need to review with a degree of scepticism the on-going process towards normality, the claims of the board of administrators running the beleaguered Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA)—and picked by Banerjee and headed by Tamang—notwithstanding.

The buzz revolving around reports that some stars from tinsel world (Shah Rukh Khan being persuaded is also being talked about) and certain reputed sports persons could be present in the course of the proposed tourism festival might be cause for frisson among the local public. But the contrary stances adopted by the Centre and the state government in their professed attempts to resolve the crisis in the Hills resulting from the statehood agitation has given rise in the popular perception to the question of how sincere New Delhi and Kolkata are in their intentions.

This comes as no surprise, given the fact that problems of the region have long been allowed to fester, ever since the Gorkhaland demand was first raised in its present avatar in the mid-1980s. There have been changes in the ruling dispensations both at the Centre and state since then but little seems to have changed on the ground; instead the political complexities have grown, marking the recent political history of the region with intermittent periods of unrest that have, to compound matters, been largely viewed through the security prism.

It is against such a backdrop that the region today seems to have become the playground of the political tussle between the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre and the ruling Trinamool Congress in the state. Developments since the calling of the recent Gorkhaland agitation late in September have only accentuated the feud and brought it into sharper focus. Recent reports suggesting that the Centre is keen that in order to make possible future talks to resolve outstanding issues related to the Hills, the state government initiate the revival of the GTA are not expected to be readily accepted by Kolkata.

One reason is this would necessitate the holding of GTA elections, due since July: Something which the chief minister does not appear inclined to. Indications are that she would rather continue for the present with the GTA board whose chairman Tamang is still widely perceived as her best bet to first contain and then marginalise further the fugitive GJM leader Gurung. Until her party, now busy consolidating its support base, deems it time to step in and throw up a challenge to the various regional parties.

As for Gurung, served by her police with a look-out notice and slapped with various charges including the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, in connection with alleged criminal offences during the June-September statehood agitation, he seems presently well-shielded by the Supreme Court which, on what incidentally was the same day of his suspension from the GJM, restrained the West Bengal Police from taking “any coercive action” against him through an issue notice “returnable in two weeks”.

It was only on Monday that the apex court, hearing a state government plea for recall of the order, reportedly halted proceedings and adjourned the matter to the second week of January 2018.

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Updated Date: Dec 12, 2017 15:28:43 IST