Statue sparks row in Kalimpong

Sudipta Chanda
SILIGURI, April 18: A podium is creating one large controversy in Kalimpong and caught in the net are the Kalimpong municipality, the CPI-M and the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League.
To honour its founder president Dambar Singh Gurung, the AIGL, which would be celebrating its 65th raising day on 15 May, had decided to reinstate a statue of the late leader at the hill town’s principal square, known as Dambar Chowk after him.
The square was known as Maharani Chowk after Queen Victoria till before the AIGL leader’s statue was installed in it sometime in the 70s. The statue was vandalised during the statehood movement in the 80s and now the AIGL wants to reinstall it.
The AIGL’s proposal has, however, met with a flat refusal from the Kalimpong municipality. “Reinstalling DS Gurung’s statue at the podium could cause social unrest and disturbance in Kalimpong. The AIGL has therefore been intimated not to reinstall the statue at the podium,” the Kalimpong municipality chairman Mr CK Kumai, said today.
According to the chairman, the decision to deny permission for the reinstallation of the statue was taken at civic body’s board meeting on 12 April. “The decision was unanimous,” Mr Kumai added.
The AIGL is frustrated with the decision and has decided to take legal steps against it. “The land in question does not belong to the Kalimpong municipality. It belongs to the District Improvement Fund. The Kalimpong municipality is in no position to deny us the right to reinstall the statue. If stopped, we shall file a writ petition,” AIGL politburo member and president of Tarun Gorkha Mr Pratap Khati, said.
The Kalimpong municipal authorities are resolute. Admitting that the land belonged to the DI Fund, Mr Kumai said: “The municipality maintains the land and the podium. We are not averse to the AIGL installing the statue elsewhere in the town but at Dambar Chowk since every political organisation uses it.”
Not against the installation of the AIGL leader’s statue at the intended site, the Kalimpong CPI-M has expressed strong reservation against the municipal authorities’ comments on how Queen Victoria’s statue was removed from the spot.
According to the 12 April board meeting’s minutes, the bronze bust of the queen installed during the days of the British raj was “stolen by miscreants.”
“The statement is defamatory,” alleged Kalimpong CPI-M leader Mr Tara Sundas. According to him, the statue was removed when the United Front was in power in West Bengal.
“Artefacts and locations named after British notables were being replaced by Indian names at the time. Responding to the wind of change, noted locals like RN Dahal, LS Sundas, Prof BD Basnet, Bharat Thapa supported by different students’ unions removed the queen’s statue with full honour and handed it over to the Kalimpong police station. The statue was received by the then officer-in-charge KM Lepcha,” Mr Sundas claimed.
“Under the circumstances, stating that miscreants had stolen the statue is a slur against the local distinguished persons. The municipality will have to take it back,” the CPI-M leader claimed.

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