|(Left) Gurung in Jamuni, near Darjeeling, on Sunday; Subash Ghisingh. Picture by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling, Dec. 15: Bimal Gurung today said Subash Ghisingh, his one-time mentor, was “welcome” to return to the hills as the Sixth Schedule bills had lapsed in Parliament and the ousted GNLF chief was old and ill.
“The GNLF has collapsed with the RTI disclosure. Their agenda is over now. I now welcome Subash Ghisingh to the hills,” Gurung said in Jamuni, near Darjeeling.
Inclusion in the Sixth Schedule would have allowed the Darjeeling hills autonomy in several matters under the Constitution.
Gurung had called the news conference to speak about the lapsed Sixth Schedule bills, when he mentioned Ghisingh, who is 78 years old now and lives the life of a recluse in Siliguri.
Before he rebelled and left the GNLF in 2007, Gurung was a trusted lieutenant of Ghisingh.
Today, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief said: “Despite the political differences, we have to understand that we share blood relations as he is also a hill man. He has grown old and in this old age, he might need the help of the hill people. I had earlier said that we would welcome him at an opportune moment and I am now welcoming him on humanitarian grounds.”
Gurung won the DGHC election from Tukvar constituency in 1999 as an Independent — the GNLF had not put up a candidate there. Gurung joined the GNLF immediately after he was elected and became one among Ghisingh’s trusted inner circle.
However, as Ghisingh kept stalling elections to public posts, disenchantment grew among the hill people. Gurung’s opportunity to tap this disenchantment came in 2007 when a hill youth, Prashant Tamang, made it to the final round of the Indian Idol.
Gurung mobilised huge support for public votes to Tamang, who eventually won the Indian Idol talent hunt. The campaign for Tamang proved to be the fledgling Morcha’s first direct show of popular support in the hills, spelling an end to the GNLF’s reign.
Gurung’s words today hinted that he was confident his now estranged mentor would not be politically active and pose a threat.
“If he again indulges in politics and the peaceful atmosphere in the hills is disrupted, then he would be responsible for the consequences,” Gurung said. “Much development will now take place in the hills and let him quietly see how we develop the hills.”
The Morcha’s confidence was boosted by a recent Union home ministry reply to an RTI query on the status of the Sixth Schedule bills.
Ashutosh Jain, director, Centre-state relations-II, while replying to the RTI query filed by a resident of Darjeeling, wrote: “The bills lapsed with the dissolution of the 14th Lok Sabha and as such, the bill cannot be implemented (sic).” The reply was dated November 29, 2013.
Ghisingh’s supporters have been urging their leader to return to the hills.
The GNLF believes that his presence in the hills would reverse the fortunes of the party.
Ghisingh and other senior GNLF leaders were compelled to leave the hills a day after Morcha supporter Pramila Sharma was killed by a bullet injury. The bullet was allegedly fired from the house of the GNLF’s Darjeeling branch committee president Deepak Gurung on July 25, 2008.
Ghisingh did return to the hills on April 8, 2011, to campaign for his party’s candidates in the Assembly election. But he quietly sneaked out of the hills on the night of May 16, 2011, after alleged GNLF supporters attacked a Morcha supporter near Sonada.
Since then, Ghisingh has not made any public appearance in the hills.
M.G. Subba, the convener of the GNLF’s Darjeeling unit, said: “It is Subash Ghisingh’s personal decision when to return and he does not need an invitation from anyone.”
“Our party has not collapsed. After six years, people are understanding the benefits of the Sixth Schedule status and are supporting our issue. The bills might have lapsed but can be easily revived if the people want the special status for the hills as both the state and the Centre had earlier agreed to bring the hills under the Sixth Schedule,” Subba said.