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Gorkha Janamukti Morcha's NDA Exit May Have Serious Electoral Ramifications in North Bengal

Kolkata: Surprising everyone, Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) founder Bimal Gurung appeared in Kolkata on Wednesday, after three years of hiding, and announced that he was breaking ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Spicing up the political scenario in West Bengal, he said he will support Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the 2021 assembly elections.


“We will give a fitting reply to the BJP. I want to see Mamata Banerjee as chief minister for the third time in 2021,” Gurung said.

Gurung said the GJM worked hard in the past to help BJP win, but the Central government did not fulfil its promises. “Even after several meetings with the prime minister and home minister, none of the commitments made to us in the past six years were fulfilled. Whereas, chief minister Mamata Banerjee has fulfilled all promises she has made to every group or organisation,” Gurung told journalists in Kolkata.

In its 2019 Sankalp Patra (party manifesto), the BJP had said, “We will recognise the 11 left out Indian Gorkha sub-tribes as Schedule Tribes. We are also committed to implementing reservation in the legislative assembly of Sikkim for Limboo and Tamang tribes. We are committed to the work towards finding a permanent political solution to the issue of Darjeeling Hills, Siliguri Terai and Dooars region.”

The Gorkha leader, however, said that his party is not giving away their demand for Gorkhaland. “We are not moving away from Gorkhaland demand. We will support the party which takes forward our demand,” he said.

 

Recently, issues surrounding the state’s hilly regions have made their way into the news cycle, as usual, when the BJP MP from Darjeeling Raju Bista on September 19 raised the Gorkhaland issue on the floor of the Lok Sabha. “I requested the Union government to expedite the process of ascertaining Permanent Political Solution to fulfil the long pending demand of the people from Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars region. I requested the parliament to take cognisance of the fact that the demand for Gorkhaland state is a long-pending demand of the people from Darjeeling Hills, Terai, and Dooars,” he said.

 

A senior local journalist from Darjeeling, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Wire, “We are all caught by surprise with Bimal Gurung’s appearance in Kolkata. His move will severely damage BJP votes in the Hill. Sentiments against the BJP were already brewing in Darjeeling as the local leadership and common people felt betrayed that it did not resolve the Gorkhaland issue even after being in power in the Centre for six years.”

After the 2017 agitation for statehood in the hills, which witnessed a record 104-day strike and shutdown, the GJM split into the Bimal Gurung and Binoy Tamang factions. The Gurung faction was allied to the BJP, the Tamang faction supported the TMC.

Anit Thapa, the Gorkha Territorial Administration chairman, told The Wire, “From the beginning, our stand was very clear. BJP was fooling us with the Gorkhaland issue, maybe Bimal Gurung understood that now.” When asked about a possible merger of the GJM factions, Thapa said, “In politics nothing is said with absolute certainty. But if at all it happens, Binoy Tamang will certainly be our leader.” Thapa is the general secretary of the GJM (Binoy Tamang faction).

When The Wire reached out to a TMC veteran MP, he said “I don’t want to comment on this. Only Mamata Banerjee will comment on the issue.”

Soon after, in an official statement, TMC “welcomed” Bimal Gurung’s decision and tweeted saying “We welcome Bimal Gurung’s commitment to peace & decision to withdraw support from NDA while reposing faith in @MamataOfficial’s leadership. BJP’s attempts to use Gorkhaland issue for petty politics & their untrustworthy nature now lay fully exposed before the people of Bengal. We’re confident that all the key stakeholders in hills, including political parties & GTA along with civil society will work together & join hands with us for the peace & prosperity of our motherland.”

The Wire reached out to BJP Bengal chief Dilip Ghosh. However, the call went unanswered. Another senior BJP leader from Bengal, on the condition of anonymity, told The Wire, “This is definitely a setback for BJP in north Bengal and can potentially dampen our electoral result in 2021.”

The GJM remained an ally of the BJP in Bengal for more than 12 years. Former cabinet minister and BJP leader Jaswant Singh had been elected from the Darjeeling constituency in 2009. In 2014, S.S. Ahluwalia won the seat by defeating Indian footballer Bhaichung Bhutia and in 2019, Raju Bista won the seat with a whopping margin of over four lakh votes. In all these parliamentary elections, the GJM played a crucial role and helped BJP win from Darjeeling.

On October 7, the Bimal Gurung and Binoy Tamang factions of the GJM attended the tripartite meeting called by the Union home ministry to review the “Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) system”. However, no representative of the West Bengal government was in attendance.

 

In the 2016 state assembly election, GJM won six seats in Darjeeling and helped the BJP win one seat in the Doars region. The GJM party has electoral influence over 16 seats in North Bengal, which has become a stronghold for the BJP after the last parliamentary election.

Bimal Gurung was charged in several cases, including under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, in connection with a grenade attack at Kalimpong police station and explosion in Darjeeling’s Chowk Bazaar area in 2017. He had been absconding ever since. The Bengal police earlier issued a lookout notice for him and has been among the most wanted individuals in the state.

When the reporters asked about the cases against him, Gurung said, “I am not a terrorist or a murderer. These are political cases and I will fight them. I will be happy even if I am arrested today.”

 

Police were spotted when Gurung, along with his close aide Roshan Giri, made an attempt to enter the Gorkha Bhawan in Salt Lake, but no actions were taken against the GJM leader.

The Wire has learnt from TMC sources that after coming to Kolkata, Gurung held a meeting with two TMC leaders.

 

https://thewire.in

TMC welcomes Gurung''s GJM to its fold, BJP asks Mamata to clear stand on Gorkhaland

Kolkata,Oct 21 (PTI) GJM chief Bimal Gurung''s decision to quit the NDA and align with the TMC evoked mixed reactions in Bengal on Wednesday, with the ruling party welcoming the move, and the BJP seeking to know if the state government would support the outfit''s demand for a separate state.

The Congress claimed that the Mamata-Banerjee led party has stitched an "unholy alliance" with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) for its political gains.

The Bengal BJP leadership said the fugitive GJM leader joined hands with the TMC as he wanted to return to the Hills.

The saffron party also asked the state''s ruling party to clarify if it would withdraw the cases slapped under UAPA on Gurung, who had been on the run since 2017 following the violent agitation in Darjeeling over demand for Gorkhaland.

BJP state general secretary Sayantan Basu said Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee should explain what exactly happened to the cases of treason filed against Gurung.

"The CM should let people know whether she supports the division of Bengal and formation of Gorkhaland, which has to be carved out of the state," Basu insisted.

Conceding that the walkout of Gurung from the NDA will cause a setback to the party''s electoral prospects in North Bengal, Basu said, "If the CM sacrifices the interest of the state for three assembly seats in Darjeeling, the BJP will drive home the point to the people."

He claimed that Gurung was forced to take the decision, as the TMC dispensation had threatened to put him behind bars.

Echoing him, West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said Gurung extended an olive branch to the TMC, as that was his only ticket to return to the Hills.

State Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury hit out at the Mamata Banerjee-led party for forging an alliance with "secessionist forces".

"Mamata Banerjee, an a desperate bid to restore its lost ground in North Bengal, thought it was prudent to stitch an unholy alliance with the secessionist forces under Mr Gurung, who had been leading the demand for Gorkhaland.

"Both the TMC and the BJP are indulging in divisive politics in West Bengal, and doing a great disservice to the people of the state. Abominable politics, no doubt," he added.

The TMC, on its part, welcomed Gurung''s decision to withdraw its support to the NDA, while reposing faith in Mamata Banerjee.

"We welcome Bimal Gurung''s commitment to peace & decision to withdraw support from NDA while reposing faith in @MamataOfficial''s leadership. BJP''s attempts to use Gorkhaland issue for petty politics & their untrustworthy nature now lay fully exposed before people of Bengal.

"We''re confident that all the key stakeholders in hills, including political parties & GTA along with civil society, will work together & join hands with us for the peace & prosperity of our motherland." the party said on Twitter.

The GJM on Wednesday walked out of the NDA, underscoring that the saffron party has "failed to find a permanent solution" for the Hills -- which had witnessed major unrest over demand for a separate state in 2017. He vowed to support the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC in its fight against the BJP in the 2021 Bengal Assembly elections.

The GJM enjoys influence in 10-12 out of 54 Assembly seats in North Bengal. PTI PNT RMS RMS


Gorkha Janmukti Morcha founder Bimal Gurung seen after three years in Kolkata

One of West Bengal’s most wanted men, Darjeeling’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leader Bimal Gurung surfaced in Kolkata on Wednesday evening three years after he went underground and swore to help chief minister Mamata Banerjee win the assembly polls due in another six months. 


Charged by the state government under anti-terror law for violence in the Darjeelng hills, Gurung had been in hiding since 2017.

As an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Gurung helped the state’s principal opposition force win the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat in 2009, 2014 and 2019. He was in hiding during the last election

“I am no longer an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Central government, be it the Prime Minister or the Union home minister, did not keep the commitment made to us. I was in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for our cause but they did nothing. Mamata Banerjee, on the other hand, does what she says. In 2021 we will go all out to help her win the seats in the Darjeeling hill region,” Gurung told the media at a hurriedly called press conference at a hotel in central Kolkata. 


 In 2019, the BJP had an alliance with the GJM’s Gurung faction, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and other smaller hill parties. BJP’s Raju Bista won the seat. The GJM has influence over voters in around 15 assembly seats in Darjeeling hills and the Terai and Dooars region in the foothills and plains.

“I proudly say that today I want to break away from the NDA and in the coming assembly polls we want to have an alliance with Mamata Banerjee and give a reply to the BJP,” said Gurung.

“In politics, there are no foes and friends. Our demand is Gorkhaland and a permanent political solution. We will see which party addresses our issues and decide our strategy for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls,” said the Gorkha leader. 


Gurung, who founded the GJM which enforced a 104-day shutdown in the Darjeeling hills in 2017 in demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland, was on the run ever since he was charged by the state under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Asked whether he was afraid of being arrested or whether he had a meeting with TMC leaders or government officials before appearing in public in the state capital, Gurung said, “I am not a criminal. I am a political leader. If I am arrested I will still speak for our cause. I did not meet any TMC leader. We will possibly have a meeting in a day or two.”

The press conference was preceded by a two-hour drama. Gurung’s followers in Darjeeling informed the media that he would meet journalists at Gorkha Bhawan at Salt Lake in the eastern fringes of Kolkata at 5 pm after holding a secret meeting with some senior leaders of the ruling TMC. 


Gurung arrived at Gorkha Bhawan around 4.30 pm in a white luxury SUV with an unidentified person who was dressed in saffron attire. However, the staff at Gorkha Bhawan who owe allegiance to Gurung’s rival faction in the GJM did not open the gates.

More than a dozen officers and constables of the Kolkata Police were present at the spot. They shouted at the staff, asking them to come out and open the gates. When no one responded, Gurung headed for Kolkata. His followers said he would hold the press conference at a hotel in central Kolkata.

The fact that the Kolkata Police did not try to arrest Gurung who is wanted under anti-terror law for the violence that rocked the Darjeeling hills in 2017 indicated that the TMC leadership has taken a soft stand in the run-up to the crucial assembly polls. 


There was no comment by any TMC leader but the party tweeted in the night, “We welcome Bimal Gurung’s commitment to peace & decision to withdraw support from NDA while reposing faith in @MamataOfficial’s leadership. BJP’s attempts to use Gorkhaland issue for petty politics & their untrustworthy nature now lay fully exposed before people of Bengal.”

“We’re confident that all the key stakeholders in hills, including political parties & GTA along with civil society will work together & join hands with us for the peace & prosperity of our motherland,” the party said in a second tweet.

Gurung’s trusted lieutenant Roshan Giri signed the tripartite Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) accord in July 2011. GTA is the local autonomous body in the Darjeeling hills, which is now headed by the Binoy Tamang-led faction of the GJM that supports the TMC. In November 2017, Gurung’s erstwhile lieutenant Tamang suspended him and his aides in their absence. 


Keshav Raj Pokhrel, a spokesperson of the Tamang faction said, “Gurung’s arrival will have no impact on hill politics because people see him as a selfish person. Gurung dumped them and fled in 2017 when the police slapped criminal charges against him.”

Since 2009, the BJP has been promising to find a permanent political solution to the long-pending demands of people of Darjeeling, Siliguri, the Terai and the Dooars region. The promises were made in the BJP’s election manifestos in 2014 and 2019 as well.

In the first week of October, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) sent a letter to the state government and the Gurung-led faction of the GJM to attend a meeting in Delhi on October 7 to discuss “issues related to Gorkhaland Territorial Administration”. 


The state government skipped the meeting but followers of Gurung attended it and demanded a permanent political solution to the Gorkhaland issue.

“Gurung had been demanding the creation of Gorkhaland for years. We too want a solution to this problem. The Centre tried to help the hill people but the TMC government did not cooperate. This is a tactical move by Mamata Banerjee prior to the polls. There are criminal cases pending against Gurung. She possibly thinks that this factor can be used for leverage,” BJP state president Dilip Ghosh told the media.

Political expert and former principal of Presidency College, Prof Amal Kumar Mukhopadhyay said an alliance between Gurung faction of the GJM and the TMC would have little impact on election results in 2021. 


“Bimal Gurung faces several criminal charges. If he has comes to Kolkata then it means that the government is not going to take any step against him. That also means that Banerjee sent feelers to Gurung. TMC is losing ground in Bengal. She is trying to secure at least the seats in the hill areas. But Gurung has little influence and power in the hill region at the moment. This alliance will be misadventure for Banerjee,” said Mukhopadhyay.

“Mamata Banerjee feels that everything is fair in love and war. That is why a wanted man can be seen in Kolkata in the presence of policemen. She is making a move purely in view of the assembly polls,” said state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. 


https://www.hindustantimes.com


Siliguri police to use drones to check pujas

The Siliguri Metropolitan Police (SMP) is likely to fly drones during Durga Puja as part of its security arrangements.

Senior police officers today said that camera-fitted UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) will be used as per the situation for crowd management and to maintain law and order. According to them, it will be an extra layer of surveillance.

“We may deploy drones during Durga Puja based on the situation to monitor traffic congestion, crowd management and law and order,” said the deputy commissioner, traffic, of the SMP, Anupam Singh.

 

The device will be handled by a group of trained personnel who can control their flight and keep capturing moving images.

The deputy commissioner (Headquarters), SMP, Joy Tudu, said security arrangements had been made to ensure peaceful Durga Puja.

“Special drive, highway patrolling and naka checks have been started. There will be special police teams to tackle the law and order situation. Round-the-clock vigil will be in place and CCTV cameras will be installed at 40 strategic points. There will be 26 police assistance booths,” Mr Tudu said.

There will be around 618 community Durga Pujas under the SMP this year.

Police officers said mobile teams, quick response teams, flying squads, and plainclothes policemen will be engaged.

They said that so far there has been no specific intelligence input regarding any possible threat to the town during the Puja.

Durga Puja guide map unveiled

State tourism minister Gautam Deb unveiled the ‘Puja Guide Map-2020’, jointly prepared by the SMP and the West Bengal Tourism Department in Siliguri today. In order to ensure smooth traffic, movement of vehicles in the town has been restricted from today, and the same will be in place till 30 October. Emergency and important telephone numbers of the police control room, traffic police control room, fire brigade, West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited, and contact details of government tourist lodges in north Bengal and tourist information centres, and names of Durga Puja mandaps have been mentioned in the map.

While appealing to people to adhere to health protocols, Mr Deb said the Onam incident should not repeat here during Durga Puja.

“We should strictly follow the guidelines by using masks and maintaining proper physical distance. We should be very cautious so that the post-Onam situation is not repeated,” he said.

In Kerala, Covid-19 cases had gone up to more than 11,000 a day after the Onam festival.

Health specialists fear that the state could face a similar situation after Durga Puja if there are laxities.

 

Leaders of the Bimal Gurung faction of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha have openly started speaking against the BJP’s “lack of will” to solve Darjeeling issues, the trend prompting some observers to suggest that the relationship between the allies is getting strained and there is a likelihood of the hill party charting its own course.

Gurung has been supporting the BJP since 2009, helping the saffron party win three consecutive Lok Sabha polls from Darjeeling. During last year’s Darjeeling Assembly byelection, Gurung had supported GNLF leader Neeraj Zimba who had contested on a BJP ticket.

However, local leaders of the Gurung faction started speaking against the BJP and many believe they would not “dare” making public statements against the saffron camp without direction from top leaders, most of whom are on the run.

 

Suman Rai, the president of the Mirik subdivisional committee of the Gurung faction, said the BJP was only making promises.

“They (BJP) are only making promises but we have now started to feel that they do not have will (to solve the hill problems). We now feel they (BJP) will not do anything for us,” said Rai, adding that there was “still time for them (BJP) to act.”

The Mirik Morcha leader said the hill people were “not vote casting machines” and the BJP had “not done anything for the Gorkhas” despite electing three MPs.

The local leaders of the Gurung camp have even come out with a list of the BJP’s failures. They highlighted Bengal BJP leaders’ statement that the permanent political solution was not Gorkhaland. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assurance on granting tribal status to 11 communities but the Centre’s failure to deliver on it and the BJP’s silence during the Gorkhaland agitation in 2017 are also being highlighted by the Gurung camp.

“When the BJP had no MPs in Bengal, Bimal Gurung helped them win a seat in the state. Now, the BJP has 18 MPs and its Bengal leaders are talking differently,” said Rai.

Modi’s failure to deliver on the promise of granting tribal status to hill communities is discussed regularly by Morcha leaders.Rai has also been asking about the fate of hundreds of Morcha activists who are on the run, including Gurung and Roshan Giri, the general secretary of the Morcha.

Gurung camp irked with Centre over statehood and ST tag

Darjeeling ally questions BJP’s will

“They (BJP) talked about helping them return (home), nothing has been done,” said Rai.

Gurung has a number of criminal cases against him in connection with the violent 2017 statehood agitation and unless he gets legal reprieve, his return to the hills would be difficult.

“A close analysis of statements by second-rung Morcha leaders and their activities —the Gurung faction is slowly mobilising with leaders coming out in public — suggest Gurung is having a re-look at the alliance with the BJP,” said a political analyst.

Gurung, the analyst feels, can influence results in six to seven Assembly seats in north Bengal.

“If he goes alone and manages to win three hill Assembly seats and influence other constituencies, he will be in a win-win situation with the government that comes to power in Bengal... He may be keeping his options open,” said the analyst.

Morcha leader Rai was, however, soft on Darjeeling BJP MP Raju Bista and said he was doing “more than what he can in his capacity” by raising issues in Parliament.

The Mirik Morcha leader said Bimal Gurung’s support base in the hills was intact and that “they would stand by whatever decision our party president (Gurung) takes”.

 https://www.telegraphindia.com

North Bengal witnesses major dip in number of tourists this festive season

Darjeeling: With the ongoing pandemic, It is "far from the madding crowd," for the tourists visiting North Bengal this holiday season. Bookings have started pouring in for homestays. However, the tourist flow to the hill towns does not look too promising. Under the new normal, the tourism trend is witnessing a change. "Tourists are preferring to travel in isolation and are avoiding crowded spaces. This time the preference is to stay put in one place for the entire holiday rather than hopping from one destination to the other. Following the taxing lockdown and the trauma, people are looking for healing experiences, far from the din and bustle of city life. They want to recoup both physically and mentally" observed Raj Basu, Convener, Association for Conservation and Tourism (ACT.)

Homestays in the Hills, Terai and Dooars have good bookings from October 22 which continues till November 7, informed Basu. "Majority of the 80 odd homestays of our area are booked to capacity from October 21 to 31st . Most of the tourists are from within the state" stated Norbu G Lama, President, Rungli Rungliot Homestay Owners' Association. The picture is just the opposite in the Hill towns. "We have enquiries but hardly any bookings. Most of the enquiries are for the period of one week starting from October 21. We have confirmed bookings for two to three rooms in that week" stated Bacchu Biswas. He runs a budget hotel in Darjeeling.

Similar is the situation for star category hotels. "We have bookings for 50% occupancy starting from October 21 to 27th. After that there are no queries" stated Suman Baraily, General Manager, Central Group of Hotels. There are around 3300 hotels in Sikkim and North Bengal. The number of homestays in North Bengal is around 2500. Every year 8 lakh domestic and 40,000 foreign tourists visit the Darjeeling Hills. With the negligible flow of tourists to the Hill towns, shops mainly catering to tourists, have been badly hit. "In a gap of two- three days we manage to sell. In normal times, we have a heavy rush in October and hardly get time to relax. This year it is just a long wait" stated Biren Gupta, owner of a store selling woolens and winter wear. It is the same for the stores that local residents frequent. "Though it is just a few days to Dussain (Dusserah- one of the major hill festivals when new clothes are bought) there are hardly any customers, We don't even have 10% of the sales we usually have during the festive season" stated Subala Pradhan, owner of a cloth store.

http://www.millenniumpost.in/

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