|Binay Tamang after his arrest. Picture by Chinlop Fudong Lepcha
Aug. 22: Darjeeling has become the testing ground for Mamata Banerjee’s resolve to act tough.
The government last night cleared the arrest of a senior Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leader wanted in a 2011 case, prompting the hill outfit to abandon a promise to suspend from Saturday an ongoing indefinite strike.
But the government vowed to enforce “administrative measures” as long as the strike continued.
“The state government can’t sit idle while people are suffering. Whatever action is needed to restore normality in the hills has been taken and, if required, we will continue with these measures,” north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb said in Siliguri.
The latest flashpoint was the arrest of Binay Tamang, a GTA Sabha member and a confidant of Morcha leader Bimal Gurung, for his alleged role in a clash with police two years ago in Sibchu in which five people, including two policemen, were killed.
Tamang, the assistant general secretary of the Morcha, said he was picked up in Sikkim’s Gangtok but police mentioned the place of arrest as the Bengal-Sikkim border.
Morcha chief Gurung responded by hardening his stand on the strike, which was supposed to be relaxed from August 24.
“There will be no relaxation on Saturday and Sunday and the agitation will go on continuously,” Gurung told a gathering at the Darjeeling Motor Stand. “The shutdown will continue for an indefinite period, until the state government stops its conspiracy and releases the elected GTA Sabha members.”
The threat throws into uncertainty the timetable to reopen schools in the hills.
Gurung accused the state government of violating a clause in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration agreement that promised to release those arrested during the statehood agitation since 2007.
All arrested Morcha activists — around 700 till today — will go on an indefinite fast in the correctional homes, the Morcha leader said. Police personnel have been “requested” to refrain from identifying houses of Morcha activists.
Gurung said he would not speak to the chief minister but would accept any invitation from the governor.
Governor M.K. Narayanan suggested he was not averse to talks but added unambiguously: “I have made it very clear that the state of Bengal extends from the oceans to the mountains.”
The CPM and the Morcha questioned the government’s wisdom of treating a “political” issue as a “law and order” problem but the Trinamul leadership feels that the situation should not be allowed to drift as the Left Front had let it.
“The government should treat it as a political problem and hold talks immediately,” said Harka Bahadur Chhetri, a Morcha MLA.
Opposition leader Surjya Kanta Mishra echoed him: “The government should not act in a provocative manner. Dialogue should be opened.”
In Calcutta, officials said although the government realised that the arrest would be seen as a “provocation”, it wanted to underscore its determination.
“The chief minister does not believe in the policy of drift that the Left Front government had adopted in Darjeeling,” an official said.
Another official said the chief minister was treating the hills and the plains alike. “The chief minister is opposed to bandhs and does not want to be seen as adopting a double standard in the hills,” the official said.
Trinamul sources cited a “political” reason, too. “By acting with firmness, the chief minister will gain in the plains ahead of the Lok Sabha polls,” a minister said.
Organisational compulsions — Trinamul does not have much of a presence in the hills — have also compelled Mamata to depend on the administration to take on the Morcha, a source said.