Bimal Gurung, the chief of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) was sworn in as the chief executive of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) in Darjeeling in front of several leaders, including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde.
The GJM had swept the GTA elections on July 29 after Mamata Banerjee withdrew her candidates from the election, making it a cakewalk for the Morcha. The Union Hoem Minister also promised Rs 200 crore to the GTA and said the Centre would provide more aid to the GTA if it utilised the money to ensure all-round development. He also praised Mamata for her role in effecting the GTA in the Darjeeling hills, a region which have been hit by serious problems for a long time now.
Mamata Benerjee, too, pledged support for the GTA and promised to set up a number of educational institutes in the region. She said the state government wants to work closely with the people of Darjeeling and did not want any disputes to stall the growth. The CM said youth from the hills were already being inducted in the police force and requested Gurung to provide jobs to families of those who lost their lives during the agitation in the hills and set up small-scale industries suitable for the hill environment. She also stressed tourism in the hills, saying her aim was to develop Darjeeling and Dooars on the lines of Switzerland. The GJM chief sought help from both the state government and the Centre to fulfil aspirations of the people from the hills.
History repeats itself
History somehow repeated itself on July 18 last year when the GTA agreement was signed between the GJM and the central and state governments. On August 22, 1988, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) led by Subash Ghisingh had also signed a tripartite pact with the two governments which led to the creation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) which is now replaced by the GTA.
Ghisingh was the chairman of the DGHC from 1988 to 2004 and served as its only caretaker from 2005 to 2008 before being driven out from Darjeeling by the GJM. The repetition of history seemed to have excited the common people of the hills a little for they know, despite all optimism expressed by the political leadership, the reality is different. Local sources said that there was little interest around the GTA voting on July 29. Some even said it was just a 'drama'.
Tough challenges for Gurung
Bimal Gurung, as is expected, will find a thorny road waiting ahead.
First, The Ghising legacy will pose the primary obstacle for Gurung. Even when Ghising was in the thick of things, Gurung, as one of his close aides, had seen how the administrative failure of the DGHC stalled progress in the hills. Funds were unutilised and misutilsed and it was the hills' interest which was ignored in the final count. The pains of underdevelopment were so severe that after a point of time, the hills witnessed a falre-up against the inefficient administrators and people like Gurung utilised the mood to topple Ghising and take over the leadership. And now, when Gurung finds himself at Ghisingh's place, the stakes are even higher.
By saying stakes are higher, we come to the second problem. The GJM, although has replaced the GNLF as the main force in the hills, but it does not reflect the voice of the entire hill people. The word 'Gorkhaland' in the name GTA has raised quite a few debates but Gurung's men, although said that they would not demand a separate state till Mamata was the CM of West Bengal, would show little guts in replacing the term 'Gorkhaland' from public spaces. Parties like the CPRM and AIGL would not spare an inch to the GJM on the crucial Gorkhaland question. And not to forget, the Adivasis of the plains region.
The GJM had a serious tussle with the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad (ABAVP) over inclusion of tribal mouzas in the GTA and there was even a split in the ranks of the tribal body after some of lits leaders decided to back GJM's claims. If Ghising faced a big problem by letting go the demand for a separate state and agreed to the Indian government's effort to bring it under a constitutional agreement, Gurung's problems can turn ever bigger if he makes even a slightly wrong move.