Darjeeling has been silently fuming. The people have grudgingly accepted their fate of being tied to West Bengal as Binay Tamang and his supporters silence anybody who voices support for Bimal Gurung and or Gorkhaland. To add insult to injury anaudio clip in Hindi has emerged in which the caller threatens to burn down the house and rape the mother and sister of Achutam Bhattarai, a Gorkhaland activist. The caller is alleged to be Soumyajit Roy, Inspector-in-Charge, Sadar Police Station, Darjeeling.
The Darjeeling Chronicle after obtaining screenshots of Bhattarai’s call record checked the number on TrueCaller and the result was a positive. This came despite IC Soumyajit Roy terming the audio recording ‘fabricated’. He denied that it was his voice in the recording and stated that he cannot speak Hindi. The clip was released a few days before Mamata Banerjee was to attend a business summit in Darjeeling.
The GTA mandates elected members, but during the shutdown all the members had resigned, subsequently Tamang was appointed the head of the GTA. Tamang called the recording a conspiracy to derail the peace in the hills. The summit Banerjee was attending was held on a request from Binay Tamang.
Speaking at the summit in Darjeeling, Mamata Banerjee appealed to the people of the hills to maintain peace if they wanted prosperity. She announced a Rs 100 crore ‘special incentive’ for developing industry in the hills. Referring to the 104-day shutdown and agitation for Gorkhaland, she said that it had caused a Rs 300 crore loss to the tea industry, and a Rs 1000 crore loss to the overall economy.
These assurances will do little to pacify the hills in the long run. Bhattarai has written to the NCW seeking protection for his mother and sister, as well as the Darjeeling Lok Sabha MP S. S. Ahluwalia. Ahluwalia wrote to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh as well as Union Minister for Women and Child Development, seeking an investigation into the phone recording, as well as a suo motu case to be filed against Soumyajit Roy. Ahluwalia has also requested that an NIA investigation be conducted in all cases registered during the period of the 104-day shutdown.
The people of Darjeeling and Sikkim are all well aware of who the villains of the agitation are. People who had sustained bullet injuries were brought to Jorethang and Namchi during the agitation as going to Siliguri was ‘too dangerous’. One victim,Ashish Tamang was shot dead by the police during the agitation. All that was found in his blood-soaked knapsack was a littlesabji and two sukha rotis. So much for the claims of ‘dangerous terrorists’. As the shutdown endured beyond anybody’s imagination, the West Bengal government enforced an unofficial blockade on food and medical supplies to the hills. At this point even, Sikkim registered vehicles were attacked in Siliguri and surrounding areas in the plains. These developments led to the Sikkim Chief Minister threatening to file a suit for damages against the West Bengal government. The threat must have worked because all of a sudden Sikkim registered vehicles were allowed free transit. This also helped establish supply lines for rations via Nepal and Sikkim to Darjeeling.
The solidarity shown by the people of Sikkim for Gorkhaland must have hit a nerve in West Bengal. Binay Tamang has on several occasions attempted to malign the government of Sikkim. However, his own position is shaky in Darjeeling. The West Bengal police have time and again claimed that Sikkim has aided Gurung in obtaining arms and ammunition to ‘wage war’. However, with only Bimal Gurung and his close aides being named as accused, the 7,000 to 8,000 unnamed others is vague enough to cover anybody the West Bengal government takes objection to.
If the audio clip is found to be genuine and the voice that of Soumyajit Roy, then this will paint a very different picture on the arson and violence that occurred during the agitation. This may even go so far as to discharge Bimal Gurung of the reams of charges levelled against him by the West Bengal government. This could on the other hand have dangerous implications for the hills. During the beginning of the language agitation in 1979, the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai famously said to the effect, ‘if you want Nepali go to Nepal’. The years of slights and insults, and now open atrocities, that have been inflicted upon the people of Darjeeling could finally reach an explosive conclusion. What also must be borne in mind is that many members of some of the most formidable and decorated units of the armed forces are from Darjeeling. They are aware of what their families have faced during the agitation, and the tipping point could come sooner than later.