Gurung at the Bagdogra airport on Thursday. Picture by Kundan Yolmo
Dec. 19: Bimal Gurung today left Darjeeling for Calcutta “with an open mind” for a “one-to-one” with chief minister Mamata Banerjee scheduled tomorrow.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president is scheduled to meet the chief minister in Calcutta at 3pm on Friday.
“Since the meeting has been called by the chief minister, I am going to Calcutta with an open mind and without any specific agenda. I want to listen to what she has to say. However, a few issues regarding the GTA might crop up during the discussion,” Gurung said in Darjeeling today.
At the Bagdogra airport, Trilok Dewan, the Darjeeling MLA accompanying Gurung, told reporters: “The one-to-one meeting is scheduled for 3pm tomorrow. Issues like the release of GTA Sabha members currently lodged in correctional homes and disbursal of funds to the hill body might come up for discussions tomorrow.”
Mamata and Gurung had last met at Chowrastha in Darjeeling on January 29 during the inauguration of the Darjeeling leg of the Uttarbanga Utsav. At that event, Mamata had asserted in her speech that Darjeeling “is a part of us”. Morcha supporters responded by raising “we want Gorkhaland” slogans, upsetting Mamata.
The Chowrastha episode strained relations between the two. Days later, Mamata announced a development board for Lepchas under the state government, much to the annoyance of Gurung, who wanted such bodies to be under the purview of the GTA.
The renewal of the Gorkhaland movement by the Morcha towards the end of July in the wake of momentum in Delhi favouring the creation of Telangana brought ties under further strain.
Gurung resigned as GTA chief executive on July 30 and the chief minister took stern measures against the agitation by arresting around 2,000 Morcha supporters. Ten GTA members were also arrested and only two of them have been released till date.
However, tourism in the hills suffered — the hills hardly had any visitors in the Puja season when it should have been crowded with tourists — and people’s weariness of the seemingly unending series of strikes took a toll.
As the hills limped back to normal, the Morcha said there would be a “bandh on bandhs”. On December 16, the GTA Sabha passed a resolution seeking Bimal Gurung’s re-election as its chief executive. Sources said at the talks with Mamata, Gurung might raise the issue of police slapping a fresh charge on GTA Sabha member Nima Tamang on December 16 when he obtained bail in the last of the cases registered against him. The police’s move to implicate Tamang in a new case (attempt to burn the Singamari police outpost in Darjeeling on July 30) prevented his release from jail.
Asked if there would be a possibility of a discussion between Mamata and Gurung on putting up a common candidate for Lok Sabha election in Darjeeling, Dewan said: “The general feeling is that the MP should be a local candidate this time. However, the party has not taken any decision in this regard. The issue would be discussed at the party’s central committee before a final decision is taken.”
Dewan, however, said there was no need for a discussion in the Morcha to decide if the party should extend its support to Mahendra P. Lama, an academician who has declared himself as an Independent candidate from Darjeeling. “It is now too late,” said Dewan, implying that Lama had already delayed seeking the Morcha’s support.
Asked about the possibility of Trinamul fielding footballer Bhaichung Bhutia from Darjeeling, Dewan said: “But he is from Sikkim.”
Bhaichung said: “I don’t want to comment on this specific issue but I can say that I have shared very good relations with Trinamul and I admire Mamata Banerjee. She is one of the cleanest chief ministers around and we need leaders like her in our country.”