An empty NBSTC bus comes to Darjeeling from Siliguri on Wednesday. Picture by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling, Aug. 14: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, bent on continuing the agitation after the four-day strike breather ends, is exploring three options which would be firmed up at the all-party meeting scheduled here on August 16.
Sources in the Morcha said, given the emotionally charged public mood now, the party wants the general strike to continue for at least one more phase from August 19.
Between August 15 and August 18, the strike will be relaxed so people can stock up.
What is weighing on the Morcha’s mind, though, is the high court order today which declared the strike illegal and sought a reply from the party by September 5 asking why it should not be asked to bear the cost of damage to public and private properties by its supporters.
Sources in the Morcha said the party wants to go for another round of strike from August 19 but there were doubts if people would be able to weather a strike longer than a fortnight.
The Morcha wants to get the Centre’s attention through the strike. “The general strike is being called to grab the Centre’s attention,” said a Morcha leader. But the Centre has not started a dialogue with the Morcha representatives despite a delegation having camped in the Delhi for almost a week.
Roshan Giri, the Morcha general secretary, said: “This is a people’s movement and the demand is an aspiration of the hill people, which must be respected by the Centre.”
The statement suggests the party thinks that normality would come to the hills only after the Centre gives a positive signal on the statehood demand. A Morcha source said the party is mulling sending an all-party delegation to Delhi.
A party leader maintained that there were reports that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had written to the Bengal government that the state government would not be excluded from any talks regarding the Darjeeling hills.
“Talks have to be started and the Centre has to intervene. Only an invitation from the Bengal government for talks is something we cannot accept. To press for immediate talks, we will definitely be sending an all party delegation to Delhi. It has to be ratified by all the parties meeting in Darjeeling on August 16,” said a Morcha source.
“If there is no word on talks from the Centre despite our next phase of the strike, the other possibility our party is thinking about is starting hunger strike across the hills,” said the party source.
A section in the Morcha leadership believes the struggle for statehood is a going to be a long-drawn process. “Even though the Centre has announced Telangana we must not expect the Centre to immediately say something positive about Gorkhaland. The agitation has to be long-drawn and we need to sustain the movement,” said a source.
Sustaining the movement, Morcha leaders believe, does not necessarily mean disrupting the livelihood of the hill people. “The tourism sector is a major source of livelihood. Such indefinite strikes can be announced during the non-tourist season but during the tourist season people will be worried about their livelihood,” said the source.
Darjeeling primarily has two tourists season, March-May and October-November.
“There are serious concerns within the leadership that only an indefinite general strike would not be a solution. We have to keep in mind how long people can take this hardship. An indefinite strike also has to end sometime and we should not be caught without any options,” a Morcha source said.
The party believes that before calling another round of indefinite strike, they will need to read the Calcutta High Court order in detail.
“We have to see how creatively one can stretch the restrictions imposed by the order but nevertheless the general mood within the party is that the strike should be continued from August 19,” said the party source.
“Even though tea gardens are most likely to be kept out of the general strike’s purview in the next phase of the agitation, as was done this time, the party has to look into the concerns of daily wage earners. We have to keep in mind the concerns of all sections (of people) in the hills,” said a Morcha leader.