Darjeeling Strike Continues as Gorkha Split Over Decision to End Confrontation

DARJEELING, West Bengal

An agreement to temporarily suspend an indefinite shutdown during talks with West Bengal’s government has split leaders of the Gorkha movement who say they are determined to achieve statehood and will discuss nothing short of that goal.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee last week welcomed Gorkha coalition leader Binay Tamang’s decision to begin talks to end a June strike involving several hundred thousand tea workers. The strike halted the second flush harvest and now threatens the autumnal tea harvest. Tea production in Darjeeling was down 89 percent in June and there was no more tea to auction by August.

At the time of the meeting Tamang was assistant general secretary of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and representing the party as one of a coalition of Gorkha bodies. Tamang announced a temporary return to normal following the initial meeting with Banerjee but was ousted Friday. GJM chief Bimal Gurung expelled Tamang for “violating the party line and indulging in anti-party activities.”

On Monday picketing by members of the GJM intensified and rallies in Darjeeling, Kurseong, Mirik, Sonada, and Kalimpong brought thousands into the streets. The rallies support Gurung’s rejection of Tamang’s decision to suspend the strike until Sept. 12.

“The situation is tense in Darjeeling as the shut-down enters its 81st day,” according to reports in The Hindu. Darjeeling businesses, schools, and colleges remain closed and traffic is restricted. Tamang retains support for temporarily ending the strike during talks.

In a bid to bring back normalcy a “peace rally” in Mirik on Monday attracted thousands of residents to Panighatta, a town in the Darjeeling foothills where shops were opened and road blocks were removed to permit the movement of traffic, according to the Times of India.

Meanwhile Indian police launched a massive manhunt to locate Gurung to face charges in connections with a bomb blast at a police outpost in Darjeeling. State police charged Gurung and three other GJM leaders with violating the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Gurung and GJM general secretary Roshan Giri narrowly avoided capture Friday in Sikkim when police raided his hideout and arrested 14 people attending a meeting called to remove Tamang.

The raid strained relations between West Bengal and Sikkim, according to reports in the First Post. Bengal Police were said to have entered their state without proper court documents or arrest warrants to apprehend certain GJM leaders from Namchi in the state’s southern fringes.

“West Bengal Police, however, refuted the allegations claiming they had already sent a letter to the authorities concerned in Sikkim, seeking permission for a raid,” according to First Post.

Ruling BJP party president Dilip Ghosh on Sunday said Banerjee “has already caused the relationship with Bihar to deteriorate over the issue of (Chief Minister) Nitish Kumar. Now she is weakening the bonds with Sikkim over the issue of (GJM chief) Bimal Gurung,” he said.

Source: The Hindu, Times of India, First Post