Darjeeling entered its 100th day on Friday, peace and normalcy looked as far away as ever.
The new bout of hopelessness began on Wednesday, when the Bengal government announced that it would reconstitute the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and appoint as its new leader Binay Tamang, a former member of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha who was expelled for opposing the bandh.
The agitation for the establishment of Gorkhaland has dragged on since June 8, after the state government said it would make Bengali a compulsory subject up to Class 10.
Opposition parties in the Hills vehemently rejected the government’s decision to re-establish the GTA, which they see as an attempt to close off their demand for a separate state.
“The move will only lead to massive unrest in the hills because people are fighting for Gorkhaland,” said Harka Bhadur Chettri, president of the Jan Andolan Party (JAP), a local party that favours the creation of Gorkhaland.
Political leaders in the region were particularly angered by the unilateral nature of the announcement, which came just weeks before an October 16 meeting that was supposed to pave the way for another meeting including representatives from the protestors, the state government, and the Centre.
“The autocratic decision of the state government will only bring peace of the graveyard by suppressing the democratic voices of people for Gorkhaland,” said Arun Ghataney, a senior leader of Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), the two most prominent parties in the Hills, also rejected the reformation of the semi-autonomous administrative body.
The initial agreement that established the GTA was signed in 2011 by the Centre, the state and the GJM. Bimal Gurung, the president of the GJM, was appointed its first chief executive.
The GTA stopped operating nearly three months ago, when its board members resigned. Gurung is now in hiding while he leads the movement for Gorkhaland.
The vice chairman of the new GTA is Anit Thapa, who was also expelled from the GJM. Another member of the new GTA, Mann Ghisingh, president of the GNLF, said he had not been consulted by the government and that his party will not accept its decision.
“The GTA would never fulfill the aspiration of the Gorkhas fighting for separate state of Gorkhaland,” said Ghisingh.
The GJM condemned those involved with the new GTA in a press conference on Wednesday. “Binay Tamang, Anit Thapa and Mamata Banerjee have come together to murder democracy in Darjeeling hills,” said Binita Roka, a party spokesperson. “The GJM rejects this decision and appeals to all other parties to do so too.”
The sudden announcement of reconstitution of the GTA board came after two rounds of largely fruitless bilateral negotiations between the state government and the Hill parties, all of whom have insisted on tripartite talks.
Both the JAP and GNLF were once considered to be close to the state government. The GNLF supported the ruling Trinamool Congress in the Lok Sabha election of 2014, the state assembly election last year, and the municipal elections in May.
Since June 17, thirteen people, including one policeman, have been killed in the unrest. Private and public properties worth crores of rupees have been set on fire and vandalized. Internet access has been blocked since June 19.
The army has been called in twice to quell the protests, and police and paramilitary forces continue to raid the houses of Gorkhaland supporters. Hundreds of Gorkhaland supporters and leaders have been arrested, and criminal cases are registered against Gurung and other senior leaders of the movement.