Bijanbari, Jan. 30: Peace in Darjeeling — one of Mamata Banerjee’s biggest trophies in power — is running the risk of getting sucked into a game of oneupmanship started by the chief minister herself.
Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief Bimal Gurung today lined up a March rally to announce the future course of the Gorkhaland statehood movement, slipping back to aggressive language to counter the assertive streak the chief minister displayed before his core constituency yesterday.
“You must be ready for the next phase of the agitation. Bullets will fly. We are ready to face police bullets as this is what they will do. She will send in the police force and their bullets, she will reopen old cases (against the agitators), we know all about it and we are ready to take bullets to achieve statehood,” Gurung told a meeting after he inaugurated a rebuilt bridge that Mamata opened by remote-control yesterday.
The remote-controlled opening itself has become an emotive issue as 33 people had died when the original bridge collapsed in 2011, rubbing salt into the wounds split open when Mamata declared yesterday that “Darjeeling is part of us”.
Many feel Mamata made a blunder as she could have steered clear of such statements at the non-political event that was associated with a festival.
Another source of friction appeared to emerge with Mamata today holding a meeting with members of the Lepcha community in Kalimpong, prompting Gurung to allege that the chief minister was following a “divide-and-rule policy”.
The Lepchas have been demanding a Lepcha Development Council — a body without territorial demand — outside the purview of the GTA. But the GTA Sabha wants the Lepchas to form a development board under it.
Gurung, already under pressure because of the renewed debate on Telangana on whose fate the carefully maintained peace in the hills rests, betrayed the compulsions on his home turf by hitting out at the chief minister.
“Let her do whatever she wants. My emotions are not attached to Calcutta but with the people of the hills, with the families who lost their near and dear ones at Bijanbari. Mamata is only confined to her name, she has no mamata (warmth) left in her,” Gurung added.
The Morcha chief, who is also the chief executive of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration that runs the hills, said he had agreed to attend yesterday’s event at Chowrastha only after an assurance from north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb that the chief minister would not make any statements on sensitive issues.
“Gautam Deb called me up and requested us to be present. I, however, told the minister that if the chief minister comments on the sensitive statehood issue, we would stage a walkout,” the Morcha chief said.
“Gautam Deb assured us that the chief minister would not make such a statement,” he added.
Asked later, Deb said he could not respond without knowing the contents of Gurung’s speech.
Gurung told reporters later that the rally to announce the future course of action would be organised at Sukna on March 10.
“Do not take us lightly, we are not afraid of anyone and are ready to go to any extent to fulfil our goal. We will not tolerate such an attitude,” Gurung said at the Bijanbari programme.
The GTA chief executive requested his deputy, Ramesh Allay, to unveil the memorial stone bearing the names of the 33 people who had died in the bridge collapse in October 2011, 35km from Darjeeling.
“The Bengal government should not take this incident otherwise. We have planned so much for this place (Bijanbari). I still have a sum of Rs 15 lakh which was donated by the people for the victims’ families. I want to add another Rs 1 crore from the GTA to set up a memorial park at this place (Bijanbari). We have already passed a project to connect this bridge with a motorable road. So many things had to be said and this is why we wanted to inaugurate this bridge in a grand manner and not through remote-control” he said.
“We are not trying to overtake them by inaugurating the bridge again. One has to understand that the story of this bridge is different. Thirty-three people lost their lives and the emotions of the entire hills are attached to this tragedy.”