The much-awaited meeting between the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and the Union Government took place on Friday. However, the big names were all absent. Neither Bimal Gurung, Roshan Giri, Anit Thapa, or Binay Tamang were present, nor was the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Instead, the GJM delegation, led by the former Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) Chairman, Lobsang Yolmo, met the Home Secretary, Rajiv Gauba.
According to GJM’s press release after the meeting, the delegation consisted of Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Ramesh Allay, former deputy chief executive, GTA, Sarita Rai, the member of the legislative assembly from Kalimpong as well as central committee members of the party R Moktan, Urmila Rumba, Bandana Yonzone, Minu Bhutia, Bishal Chettri and Bishal Lama, and the delegation’s legal advisor Anand Bhandari.
List of Demands
The demands the delegation had placed before the Home Secretary were:
Dropping the criminal cases lodged during the 2017 agitation within fifteen days as a precursor for talks.
Initiate tripartite talks with the Union Government, the Government of West Bengal and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
Scheduled Tribe status for eleven Gorkha communities – Bhujel, Gurung, Mangar, Newar, Jogi, Khas, Rai, Sunwar, Thami, Yakkha and Dhimal.
Constitute an Expert Committee to study the Economic, Administrative and Political Viability of a Gorkhaland state comprising Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts, and the adjoining Terai and Dooars region.
Handing all the bomb-blast and arms recovery cases to the National Investigation Agency.
A thorough investigation into all the civilian deaths that occurred during the 2017 agitation including those of police personnel.
According to the GJM’s press release, the Union Home Secretary agreed to send a fact-finding team to Darjeeling and other places affected by the agitation to investigate the allegations that the district administration and police misused the law and order machinery. The other assurance granted was that a tripartite meeting would be held after the Puja holidays.
(Also read: Guerrilla 'Lawfare' in the Darjeeling Hills )
For the people of Darjeeling, the Union Home Secretary’s assurances should be taken with a generous helping of salt.
Independent India or Militarised state?
Previously, the Chairperson of the National Commission for Women, Rekha Sharma, had visited Darjeeling in April this year. She reportedly said that she did not feel like she was in independent India. In some instances, 45 cases had been lodged against a single individual. Some people preferred to live in the forests as they feared that they too would be arrested upon returning home. In one instance, an 11year-old had been charged under the Arms Act. However, till date no action seems to have been taken by the Home Ministry nor by the Government of West Bengal, which in a sense implicates both parties as complicit in the hardships the people of the hills are facing.
(Also read: Tilting the Balance in Favour of Positive Law )
‘Nonsensical Appeals’ by Union Govt.
On the issue of tripartite talks after the Durga Puja holidays, a similar assurance was given during the agitation. In August last year, Rajnath Singh consistently appealed to the GJM to call off their shutdown. He urged the GJM to talk to the West Bengal Government, which actually is a nonsensical appeal as the government of West Bengal is not the authority to create a separate state. However, the shutdown was lifted on September 27, after the Home Minister made vague assurances of dialogue.
It has been over a year since the shutdown and the entire playing field has been drastically altered. The once omnipotent Bimal Gurung and Roshan Giri are in hiding. Binay Tamang is the unelected head of the GTA. The GJM has split into two factions, one led by Gurung and Giri, and the other by Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa. The faction in power seems more aligned with the Trinamool Congress (TMC)-led West Bengal government. Supporters of the Gurung faction have faced threats. Even Roshan Giri’s mother received a threat. Both Gurung and Giri have had their names struck off the voter rolls – implying that they cannot even vote, let alone contest in an election.
However, while these developments unfolded, the Union Home Ministry has kept silent. Perhaps with the 2019 Lok Sabha polls approaching, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre wants to ensure that they will win the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat again. However, since the political equations have changed so much, who the lone seat will go to is anyone’s guess.