Defiance overcomes fear in Darjeeling – Protest in hills, unrest in Morcha

(Bimal) Gurung tried to cut a brave front, saying the leaders who quit had fallen from grace because of their “proximity to the state government”.

The Telegraph

A mourner tries to rip out a Morcha flag from a pole that was pulled down at Darjeeling Mall on Monday. (Suman Tamang)

Darjeeling, May 24: Defiance overcame fear and coursed through the funeral procession of slain leader Madan Tamang today, stoking the first signs of protest and rebellion against the so-far unchallenged Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.

People ripped apart posters, tore down flags as well as banners of the Morcha and then some did the unthinkable by raising slogans asking Morcha spearhead Bimal Gurung to “quit Darjeeling”.

The backlash has also given disgruntled sections within the Morcha itself the courage and opportunity to walk out. Seven senior leaders of the Morcha, including Tamang’s brother Amar Lama, resigned today. Three influential people whom the Morcha used to tap for talks have also distanced themselves from the party.

The dissent has brought upon the Morcha its worst crisis since it was formed in 2008. Some of those who resigned referred to their “conscience”, lending credibility to charges that the Morcha was linked to the murder.

It is not clear if the rare display of outrage against the daylight murder of Tamang, a vocal critic of the Morcha who was hacked to death at the venue of a meeting on Friday, is a sustainable force or a momentary explosion of pent-up feelings that found an outlet on the emotive occasion of the funeral.

But ever since the Morcha was formed two years ago and it started a systemic campaign to stamp out all alternative voices, the hills had not seen an expression of outrage as it did today.

As the funeral procession snaked its way from the Tamang’ party office on Ladenla Road to the spot in front of Planter’s club where he was killed, hundreds of supporters pulled down Morcha flags and banners that had been fluttering at various points along the route. They were helped by groups of residents who egged them on – one torn poster featured an outsized Gurung.

Many shouted slogans like “Bimal Gurung quit the Darjeeling hills” and “Bimal Gurung murdabad”, the rest of the crowd peppering the defiance with loud applause. People also shouted from rooftops, asking others below to bring down the Morcha’s green-and-yellow flags.

But not many wanted to identify themselves, mirroring the deep sense of security still pervading the hills.

“I have come to condemn the killings and on seeing the turnout (5,000-plus) today, I am hoping that the parties will realise that the common people do not accept the politics of violence,” said a resident who did not want to be named, though he is well known in the hills.

Familiarity is a factor that had crushed earlier initiatives for civil society movements. “With everyone knowing almost every other person in this town, no one wanted to be in the bad books of the ruling party and this is how the movement fizzled out,” a resident said of an earlier campaign seeking water.

“We had tried to start a civil movement regarding the water problem in this hill station around four to five years ago. Meetings were held but somewhere along the line, none really wanted to take the plunge,” he added

He recalled that the movement was planned the when Gorkha National Liberation Front chief Subash Ghisingh’s writ ran. “We knew then that if we raised our voices, we would probably be targeted by the toughs Ghisingh controlled. However, as peace-loving and responsible citizens, we could not ignore the stain on our society that was caused by spilling Tamang’s blood.”

On Saturday, the residents took the first tentative steps by organising candlelight rallies.

The “disillusionment” found reflection within the Morcha, too.

“We are stunned by the gruesome murder. Respecting the people’s sentiments and looking at the present political situation, we have decided to resign from all posts of the party,” a statement signed by C.R. Rai, Narayan Thapa, C.K. Subba, Palden Lama and Bhawajit Tamang read.

In Kalimpong, media and publicity secretary Harka Bahadur Chhetri, said: “My conscience has been troubling me…. I have thought my decision over the last few days and put in my papers today.”

Gurung tried to cut a brave front, saying the leaders who quit had fallen from grace because of their “proximity to the state government”.

However, another leader asked: “Why is it that for the first time, they have summoned the courage to speak up? It is because the backlash of the Tamang killing is such that it gave them the chance to vent to their feelings.”

The protests were not restricted to Darjeeling town. At Tamang’s native village, Meghma, 45km from here and near the Nepal border where the ABGL leader was cremated this evening, people brought down the Morcha’s banners and flags.

Overwhelmed by show of support, Tamang’s wife Bharati thanked the people of Darjeeling. Bharati has told her close aides that “she would not allow her husband’s sacrifice to go in vain”, raising the possibility that she might enter active politics.

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