Encounter belies claim of 'peaceful' agitation

Morcha president further isolated

By AVIJIT SINHA in Siliguri
  • Published 14.10.17
A police recovery van that was torched near Barnesbeg Tea Estate; and its driver Kumar Tamang, who suffered injuries, at the district hospital in Darjeeling on Friday.

Siliguri, Oct. 13: The encounter on the bank of the Little Rangeet river in the Darjeeling valley this morning belied Bimal Gurung's frequent claims that he was leading a "peaceful and democratic" movement for Gorkhaland and left him further alienated in the hills.

The recovery of a huge cache of arms and ammunition from the site of the action shows the cornered Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president and his supporters were determined for a long drawn out battle.

"Today's incident has shown that Gurung is all set to create fresh unrest in the hills and probably, an armed struggle. This is something that people do not want now as peace and normality returned to the hills after hardships they faced during a 104-day shutdown. Gurung had all along been claiming that he wanted statehood for the hills through a peaceful and democratic movement. The encounter which caused the death of a police sub-inspector belied his tall claim," said an observer of hill politics.

"The incident has only weakened the support base of the Morcha chief further and strengthened the hands of the Mamata Banerjee government," added the observer.

Gurung has been made an accused in several cases registered during the recent statehood movement. He was booked under stringent provisions of the UAPA in connection with attacks on police stations and bomb blasts in the hills.

Police are all set to slap fresh murder charges on Gurung as sub-inspector Amitabha Malik fell to bullets allegedly fired by Gurung's associates.

A former bureaucrat pointed out that plans like setting up a camp in the forest with a huge arsenal, including AK series rifles, show the desperation of Gurung.

"The Morcha chief was banking on the BJP but after the party's delegation faced vehement protests in the hills, it was clear to Gurung that there was none left in the hills to support him. An arms camp inside a forest and the possession of weapons show Gurung seemed to be desperate to make a comeback to the hills. After the attack on police today, the Centre might also think twice before inviting Gurung to the proposed tripartite talks," said the bureaucrat.

For the past few months, Gurung was finding himself on a slippery ground after the Mamata Banerjee government started projecting Binay Tamang as the most important mass leader in the hills.

According to sources in the Morcha, Gurung's strategy to ascend to his old position (of the topmost leader in Darjeeling hills) by any means has backfired.

A Morcha insider, who is with the Binay Tamang camp, said: "Gurung did not come out in public to lead the movement. Instead, he stayed away and went on releasing audio and video clips, passing on directives to people. This is something that has not gone down well with the people. After today's incident, his position as a leader became more untenable. Now, he will be equated with terrorists."

The encounter also validated Mamata's claim that Gurung had links with Northeast insurgents and some other extremist forces.

"Mamata and her cabinet colleagues always said after the launch of the latest movement that Gurung had links with insurgent groups. Trinamul will now surely try to drive home the point that Gurung was planning an armed struggle for his own interests and had little concern for the hill residents, unlike Binay Tamang, who is insisting on peace and democracy," the observer said.

Trinamul secretary-general Partha Chatterjee said the chief minister had spoken to the family of the slain police officer and offered her condolences. "I, along with minister Jyotipriya Mullick, will receive Amitava Malik's mortal remains, which will arrive tomorrow," Chatterjee said in a statement.

Amitava's father will be offered a job in the education department and his wife will be employed in Calcutta Police, said sources.

Sources in the BJP said the party would adopt a four-point political resolution tomorrow, holding Mamata responsible for the hill crisis.

The BJP sources said Gurung might not get the invitation from the Centre to attend the tripartite talks. "The Centre might only invite the MLAs and the MP from the hills and the state government representatives to the tripartite talks," a BJP insider said.