Bimal Gurung at an event in Jamuni on Monday. Picture by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling, Dec. 9: Bimal Gurung today announced that he had been invited to meet the chief minister in Calcutta on December 20 to discuss issues related to the GTA Sabha and dropped a hint that he would return to the helm of the autonomous body.
The meeting between Mamata Banerjee and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president will be the first since January this year when the chief minister had to face slogan-shouting supporters of the hill party at Chowrastha here.
Attending a programme at Jamuni, 20km from here, Gurung today said: “I have been invited to meet chief minister Mamata Banerjee in Calcutta at 3pm on December 20. We will discuss issues related to the GTA.”
Bengal home secretary, Basudeb Banerjee, said in Calcutta that he was yet to be told about a meeting between the Morcha president and Mamata. “As of now, I have no knowledge about the meeting. However, I was not in office the entire day today and cannot say whether any communication in this regard has been sent to my office,” said Banerjee.
Mamata and Gurung had last met at Chowrastha on January 29 during the inauguration of the Darjeeling leg of the Uttarbanga Utsav. Following Mamata’s assertion in her speech that Bengal would not be divided, Morcha supporters present at the event raised “we want Gorkhaland” slogans. An angry chief minister told the crowd that she was “rough and tough”.
Relations between the two leaders started to strain after the Chowrastha episode. Mamata went ahead with the formation of a development board for the Lepcha community outside the purview of the GTA, much to the chagrin of the Morcha. Gurung then started demanding the removal of the then principal secretary of the GTA, Saumitra Mohan.
The Morcha-Mamata relation took a nosedive when the party launched a renewed agitation for Gorkhaland in July after the Centre had given its green light for the creation of Telangana. Gurung also stepped down as the chief executive of the GTA on July 30. The chief minister took stern measures against the agitators and arrested around 2000 people during the 34-day general strike called by the Morcha.
Even though relations between the state and the Morcha leadership improved following the chief minister’s visit to Darjeeling in October, Gurung didn’t meet Mamata personally. Gurung only deputed Morcha leaders like Roshan Giri and Harka Bahadur Chhetri to meet her.
Gurung today hinted that he might return to head the GTA. “During the meeting, we will discuss issues related to the GTA. Since I am not heading the body, problems are cropping up here and there,” said Gurung without going into the specifics.
A section in the Nari Morcha has been demanding that Gurung return to the GTA. At various public meetings of the Morcha, Nari Morcha supporters were seen holding placards, signed by janata (public), requesting Gurung to take charge of the GTA as the chief executive.
Following Gurung’s resignation, Lt. Col. (retd) Ramesh Allay, the deputy chief executive of the GTA, has been empowered by the hill body to officiate as the acting chief executive.
Gurung’s meeting with Mamata also comes at a time the Morcha seems to have decided to take the Gorkhaland agitation to Delhi and not carry on any activities that might disrupt peace in the Darjeeling hills.
Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri and Dawa Lama, the president of the party’s Darjeeling subdivisional committee, today headed for New Delhi to organise a dharna demanding Gorkhaland for three days from December 13.
“We will organise the dharna in Delhi for three consecutive days demanding Gorkhaland. We are expecting a large number of people not only from Darjeeling, Dooars and Terai regions but also from places like Dehradrun,” said Giri.
Observers believe the Morcha is trying to do a balancing act. “By raising the Gorkhaland issue in Delhi, the Morcha is trying to create space so that it can go to the public saying it is still committed to the statehood cause. On the other hand, a Delhi-centric agitation will ensure peace in Darjeeling and will not antagonise the chief minister,” said an observer.
GTA to close for a day
The GTA Sabha on Monday passed a resolution to keep its offices closed on December 17 to mourn the death of L.B. Pariyar, the former chairman of Kalimpong municipality.