The Times Of India
As Darjeeling steps into another of the indefinite shutdowns from Saturday that it has been forced by its successive “leaders” to grow accustomed to, denizens of this once-picturesque town wonder if this is the beginning of a journey back to those “dark days” of the mid-to-end 1980s that heralded Darjeeling’s “end of innocence”.
Till the 1980s, recalls septuagenarian Nirmal Pradhan, a former schoolteacher and short-story writer, Darjeeling (signifying this town and the entire district) was a “laid-back, genteel, cosmopolitan and cheerful place” where “even the grey mist would fail to dampen the spirit of the people”. The GNLF-led agitation from the mid-1980s changed all that.
After years of fear, violence and uncertainties, the 1988 accord that led to the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) offered a strong ray of hope. But the tall promises of development and prosperity offered by the GNLF to the Hills people never translated to reality. Even so, save for the idiosyncrasies of Subash Ghisingh, the mercurial GNLF chief, people here settled down to the humdrum rhythms of a “normal” life.
Then came the ‘Indian Idol’ contest and the public frenzy and support for contestant Prashant Tamang was leveraged by one of Ghisingh’s close aides, Bimal Gurung, to rebel against his mentor, overthrow him and float his own outfit, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). The GJM revived the dormant demand for Gorkhaland and plunged the Hills into yet another long spell of upheavals. And once again, an agreement (like in 1988) that led to the formation of the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) offered the optimism of better times.
But, again, that was not to be. The constant friction between Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Gurung kept the Hills tethered to uncertainty and tension. And now, there seems to be no escape from the gloom that even the weather-gods appear to have decreed for Darjeeling, with its permanently overcast skies that offer no possibility of even a ray of sun to penetrate.
“There have been agitations in the past and we’ve become used to them. We’ve even learnt to take them in our stride. But this time, there’s an inexplicable sense of foreboding that something bad will happen,” said Kunal Chettri, who runs a tea export business and has a garments store on HD Lama Road in Darjeeling town.
A former professor of political science of Darjeeling Government College who did not want to be named told TOI: “This time, the break between (Bimal) Gurung and the Bengal government appears to be beyond repair. Gurung cannot afford to step back from the ‘do or die’ stance he has just adopted on Gorkhaland.”
The Morcha supremo won’t be able to sell another GTA with greater powers to the people here and it’s highly unlikely that the Centre will offer any assurance on Gorkhaland, he pointed out.
“The only way forward for Gurung is to take an extreme stand and intensify the agitation. That’s where our fear lies, because such intensification will lead to an inevitable and strong crackdown by security forces and that’ll provoke more backlash. There’s bound to be collateral damage too. This spiral of violence and counter-violence will ruin Darjeeling and the Hills.”
The professor’s fears are not unfounded. GJM leader Roshan Giri told TOI that there will be no stepping back from Gorkhaland now, no more “half-measures” like GTA. “It’s either Gorkhaland or death,” he said. Taking such an extreme stand precludes any possibility of accommodation. And with New Delhi unlikely to play ball, GJM will have no option but to up the ante. All of which translates into very bad news for Darjeeling.