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Gurung on return road to helm GTA

- Sabha resolution to bring back Morcha chief signals focus on progress, not statehood

Darjeeling, Dec. 16: The GTA Sabha today passed a resolution seeking Bimal Gurung’s re-election as its chief executive in the clearest signal that the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha wants to focus on the hill autonomous body for now, instead of raising the statehood cry.

The Sabha requested the GTA principal secretary to call a meeting as early as possible to elect Gurung, who had quit the hill body on July 30 because he wanted to lead the statehood movement that kept Darjeeling in the grip of strikes and bandhs till mid-September.

Gurung quit the GTA days after the Congress gave its nod to Telangana. As the Morcha had tied its Gorkhaland demand to the creation of the southern state, Gurung lost no time to launch a fresh statehood movement.

The protests led to strained relations between the Morcha and the state government.

During the two-month-long movement, police arrested many Morcha activists and leaders and 10 GTA Sabha members. Most of them are still in prison.

The Morcha leaders repeatedly called on ministers in Delhi to get an indication on the party’s statehood demand, which infuriated chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

By October-end, though, the Mamata-led state government managed to quell the protests in the hills, where residents had started feeling the pinch of the movement as Darjeeling lost tourists in the Puja holiday season.

On October 26, after a meeting with Mamata, Morcha MLA Harka Bahadur Chhetri announced that there would be a “bandh on bandhs”, signalling the end of protests.

Since then, Gurung has dropped broad hints several times that he may resume charge of leading the GTA Sabha.

Yesterday, speaking to journalists at Jamuni, near Darjeeling, he said: “I think I have made a mistake,” when he was asked about his decision to quit the hill body.

A GTA member today cited the “sentiments” of the people as the reason for seeking Gurung’s return to the helm of the hill body.

Jyoti Kumar Rai, an executive Sabha member, said: “Bimal Gurung had resigned as chief executive following developments on the Telangana front. It was his compulsion. However, he had not consulted the Sabha before tendering his resignation. Now, when we go to different places in the hills, we find that the people want him to be the chief executive. We adopted the resolution to respect the people’s sentiments.”

Gurung is scheduled to meet the chief minister in Calcutta on December 20, when several long-standing GTA demands are expected to be discussed.

Sources in the Morcha said Gurung’s return to the GTA would ensure its normal functioning.

The Morcha chief has also made gestures to hint that he was trying to mend fences with the government.

Yesterday, Gurung said he was not averse to the state government forming separate development bodies for various hill tribes. “The state government must set up development boards for all hill communities. Let such boards be formed under the state government, but allow the GTA to function smoothly,” Gurung said.

But earlier this year, the Morcha chief had said Mamata was trying to divide the hills after the chief minister announced a development board for Lepchas under the state government. Gurung had wanted such a board to be under the GTA.

After today’s resolution, Gurung’s election is a mere formality.

Bhupendra Pradhan, the chairman of the GTA Sabha, said: “Today’s meeting was attended by 28 members, which fulfilled the quorum that requires the attendance of 15 (of the 45 elected members). We had a single-point agenda and accordingly we passed a resolution stating that Bimal Gurung must occupy the post of the chief executive of the GTA.”

Sources said the Morcha chief was is in a hurry to get elected the next GTA chief executive so that he could start development work as early as possible.

The sources said the Morcha leadership had asked the GTA Sabha members, who were in Delhi to participate in the party’s dharna, to return to the hills.

Only Roshan Giri, the Morcha general secretary, stayed back in the capital as he was scheduled to meet BJP president Rajnath Singh and Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.

“Rajnath Singh has told us that the BJP parliamentary board would sit for a meeting soon to take a clear and positive stand on Gorkhaland,” Giri said today from Delhi.

The Morcha leader said the home minister “has asked us to meet him again next month”.