Statehood cry with gesture to Adivasis

The Telegraph
VIVEK CHHETRI

Darjeeling, May 30: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has decided to discuss nothing less than the demand for a separate state with the Bengal government and the Centre, putting an end to talks on an “interim set-up”.

Morcha leader Bimal Gurung said today at a large gathering at the St Joseph’s School (North Point) grounds: “The interim set-up is now a closed chapter.” The Morcha has rechristened Gorkhaland as Gorkha-Adivasi Pradesh to make the demand palatable to the Adivasis living in the Dooars and the Terai.

Gurung announced that the plan for a 10-day shutdown from June 12 had been dropped and the strike in government offices would be withdrawn from June 2.

Today’s rally had been touted as a “show of strength” following the act of defiance by residents of Darjeeling during the funeral of the slain Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League leader, Madan Tamang, on May 24. People had then shouted anti-Morcha slogans, blaming Gurung for the killing, and tore down the party’s posters and flags. A defiant Gurung returned to Darjeeling leading a cavalcade of a hundred cars the very next day and announced today’s rally.

Tamang was hacked to death at the Clubside motor stand in the heart of the town on the morning of May 21.

Gurung today expressed his displeasure over the state and the Centre’s refusal to include areas in the Dooars and the Terai in the proposed set-up that was under discussion. “They are talking about granting only 22-23 mouzas from the Dooars. We were not asking for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s and (urban development minister) Asok Bhattacharya’s personal land. We are asking for areas where our people are in the majority but now the issue of interim set-up is over,” said Gurung.

He said that since there was opposition from the Adivasi community to the nomenclature of Gorkhaland, “We will name the state Gorkha-Adivasi Pradesh. Both the communities have been deprived and we will fight together to create a state.”

The term Gorkhaland had been coined by Subash Ghisingh, who had led a bloody 28-month agitation from April 1986. Other names conceived by protagonists of a separate state in the past were North-East Frontier State, Uttarkhand Pradesh and Gorkha Pranta but none gained the currency of Gorkhaland.

Gurung urged the leaders of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad to sit for a meeting. “They must also hold a meeting with us now since we have changed the name of our proposed state to accommodate them. After meeting the Parishad leaders we will hold three meetings.”

The party has decided to suspend its agitation, which included the closure of government offices from June 2 and a 10-day general strike from June 12, till a party meeting on June 14. “We will look at the response from the state and Centre on the statehood demand and will announce our programme on June 14,” Gurung said.

The Morcha’s announcement, rejecting the interim set-up and changing the nomenclature of the state it is demanding, is being seen as a strategy to silence the voices that have opposed it. Since all Darjeeling-based political parties are also demanding a separate state, the Morcha had come under criticism only after it started talking about a “secret proposal” it had sent to the Centre last January.

“It must be understood that the interim set-up was offered to us by the Centre. However, since we did not agree to what they sent us, we had merely sent our own proposal for the set up to Delhi,” said Roshan Giri, the general secretary of the party.

The Morcha leadership had revealed the “secret proposal” on March 15 in the form of the interim set-up that would last till December 31, 2011. The talks, however, fell through with the state and the Centre not accepting the territory being demanded by the Morcha.

The change in nomenclature is also a clear indicator that the Morcha is aware that it needs the support of the dominant tribal community in the Terai and the Dooars even if it wants only those areas in the region where Nepali-speaking people are in the majority.

Jaswant Singh, the Darjeeling MP, said at the meeting that he would always work for the creation of a separate state. “One must however be patient and must always maintain peace.”

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www.kalimpong.info

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